GRAND plans for a John Lewis-led Worcester retail park lies in tatters today - after councillors said it would "destroy" the High Street.

Worcester City Council's planning committee today threw out the £150 million out-of-town plaza off Newtown Road after savaging the controversial scheme.

The rejection means Worcester is Britain's first city to ever turn down a John Lewis - but sparked jubilant schemes among city centre traders.

During impassioned scenes this afternoon, two politicians even compared the importance of the vote on Worcester's future to today's EU referendum for Britain - while a third said he was not prepared to go down in history as "one of those councillors who murdered" the High Street.

After more than an hour of severe criticism about the 'Worcester Woods' project, bankrolled by Britain's biggest developer Land Securities, it was rejected 9-0 during a vote.

The damning verdict came after an independent report said Worcester could lose around 10.8 per cent of its city centre trade, something contested by the developer.

During the debate Councillor Simon Cronin said: "As far as quality is concerned this application has won the race to the bottom.

"The idea the retail heath of this city, which has grown up over 2,000 years, could be threatened by a collection of sheds is outrageous.

"Most of the city centre businesses have been awaiting today for a long time, in a great state of anxiety - they know better than any of us the impact it will have on them to survive."

He said uncertainty over Worcester Woods had "dogged" the High Street and joined the chorus to get John Lewis into the city centre instead, saying: "My message to John Lewis is, please come to the city centre.

"We've been waiting for you for a long time, but not this way."

Green Councillor Neil Laurenson said the city centre was "at the heart of Worcester", and even cited taking his own children in for events like Chocolate Day.

He said an out-of-town retail park shot at the heart "of Worcester's cultural identity".

Labour Councillor Jabba Riaz, a member of the city's Labour leadership, said "in a week where the UK has to make its biggest decision in decades" Worcester faces one of its own generational importance.

He feared the impact on the city centre would be "momentous" if it got approved, adding: "Picture the scene: rows of empty shops, neglected premises no use to anyone."

He called the potential consequences "devastating" and told the committee that "unlike the Brexit vote, we do have the facts before us".

Conservative Councillor Alan Feeney called the £1 million cash handout Land Securities had pledged to improve the city centre as "derisory", saying it would "not be enough to resurface two streets".

He also said the 622 jobs Worcester Woods would create did not take account to those lost from other retailers, adding: "I'm not willing to be one of those who murdered the city centre, just to get half a John Lewis."

As well as a 'John Lewis At Home' store a Marks & Spencer, Next Home and Garden and Sainsbury's were also signed up to the 13-unit scheme.


DURING today’s debate one of Land Securities' bosses turned up to try and sway the committee - saying the damage on the High Street was overblown.

Nick Duffield, a portfolio director, told politicians if Worcester wanted to go down as "the first place to say no to John Lewis".

He also repeated the view that Worcester loses £123 million in potential trade to centres like Cheltenham and Birmingham per year, saying it would get worse unless the city improves its overall offer.

He also said the firm, which used to own Cathedral Plaza, had "spent three years" trying to persuade John Lewis to come to the city centre without luck.

"Even with Worcester Woods, the amount spent in Worcester city centre will increase," he said.

The firm had taken its own advice suggesting city centre turnover, which is £493 million now, would grow to £673 million by 2026 even with the development in place.

But Adrian Field, from Worcester's Business Improvement District (BID), said the council's assessment revealed "devastating" consequences for retailers.

He said "there will be no turning back" for the city centre if it was accepted, adding: "Approval will mean empty shops and redundancies, and loss of tourism - after all who will want to visit a city centre with a reduced offer?"

Other retailers like Becky Sutcliffe, from 25 Boutique and Ed Wood, from Worcester Furniture Exhibition Centre, backed him up.

During the meeting traders had packed into the Guildhall with placards saying 'save the city centre' and 'say no to Worcester Woods', even unfurling a banner.

The only councillor to not back refusal was Councillor Paul Denham, the current Mayor of Worcester.

He abstained after saying he could not be convinced by the projections either way, saying there were no "firm facts".

Land Securities said the fears were overblown, telling the committee Next and M&S has offered guaranteed to keep their city centres stores open for at least five years, something very rare in retail circles.

Mr Duffield also said as the plaza was sticking mainly to bulky goods, like the John Lewis At Home range, it was not “a fashion park” aimed at competing with the High Street.

But Labour Councillor Pat Agar insisted they wanted long term assurances over the city centre, and that Worcester should fight an appeal if necessary, while Tory Councillor Andy Stafford said it could “destroy Worcester’s job creating potential”.

The park would have had a turnover of around £60 million and paid out £11 million a year in wages.

* SEE OUR SPECIAL REPORT: £150m John Lewis-led Worcester shopping centre facing rejection