A BUSINESS forum has been dismissed as a “talking shop” full of “corporate chums” after it offered support for a possible new bid to build a shopping complex near St Austell.
The St Austell Bay Economic Forum (SABEF) said it had agreed to express in-principle support for the proposed Coyte Farm development, west of the town.
The controversial project, anchored by a large Marks and Spencer, was kicked out by one vote when it went to Cornwall Council planners in January.
The company behind the £110 million scheme, London Metric Property and Mercian Developments, have signalled an intention to submit an amended bid later in the year.
They have now won support from SABEF, which brings together business leaders and stakeholders across a wide area from Fowey to Mevagissey, including St Austell and the Clay Country.
The group says such a major retail development has the potential to stimulate additional economic activity for the area.
However it calls on the developers of Coyte Farm to consider further measures to mitigate any impact on the town centre and businesses when drawing up its revised proposals.
Chairman James Staughton said they believed that - subject to seeing the final details of the bid - it had real potential to give St Austell a much needed boost.
“SABEF understands the concerns of some traders and would encourage the developers to seek ways to improve their proposals for links to the town and the support given to the town centre in their new planning application,” he said.
“We hope that we can find ways to ensure that the new shopping centre can complement and benefit the town centre and local businesses rather than compete with them.
“While we of course reserve judgement until the full details of the new planning application are known, we believe that the economic benefits of the development, including the jobs created, make it worthy of support and that this project could bring a significant boost to the vitality and economic prosperity of the area.”
The support, even though it was qualified, was dismissed by campaigners fighting the development which has become an issue bitterly polarising St Austell into the for and against camps.
Ally Watkins, who helped establish the Stop Coyte Farm campaign, said SABEF’s support for Coyte Farm was no surprise.
“It is just a bunch of corporate chums in support of corporate business,” she said. “It’s not real surprise that they are speaking up for Coyte Farm. SABEF has just sat and talked about this for three years and not actually done anything.
“It’s nonsense to suggest that the development at Coyte Farm would benefit St Austell or any of the other places like Mevagissey or Fowey or Bodmin. It will do nothing for the town centres except suck the life out of them and St Austell will be turned into Swindon-by-the-Sea.”
Mike Coles, of Broadley Park Properties, which has invested heavily in St Austell town centre and spoken out against the development at Coyte Farm, said SABEF seemed to be backing an invisible application.
“The developers have talked about submitting a fresh application, but they haven't done so yet.”
He dismissed SABEF as a “talking shop,” adding: “I can’t understand why they have suddenly come out and said they are going to back something which doesn’t exist.”