Councillors say yes - in principle - to Tesco’s Ely plans but negotiations rumble on

How the new Octagon Park development could shape up

How the new Octagon Park development could shape up - Credit: Archant

A multi-million pound leisure and retail development on the outskirts of Ely has been approved ‘in principle’ by councillors.

How the new Octagon Park development could shape up

How the new Octagon Park development could shape up - Credit: Archant

East Cambridgeshire District Council’s planning committee voted eight in favour, four opposed, to give consent to the plans, though negotiations between the authority and applicant Healy Investments will have to continue before building work can begin.

When the council is happy with the outstanding issues, including securing funding to help bolster Ely’s city centre against the impact of the development and a promise not to redevelop the existing Tesco store for retail, it will return to councillors for a final vote.

Healy Investments hopes to have the store open for business by 2017.

Voting in favour of the plans, Councillor Peter Moakes said: “This is all about growth. We have embraced growth many, many times in other committees and this is just the next step in that growth.”

Also voting in favour, Cllr Mike Rouse said: “I think the positives of this scheme outweigh the negatives because it will offer the people of Ely better choice than they have already.”

And fellow Conservative Tom Kerby added: “Footfall in Ely is a big problem and if we can potentially improve our facilities with Section 106 money, we have more opportunity of keeping people here.”

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Some councillors, and members of the Ely Traders Association, remained unhappy with the plans, however, saying that the development could have an irreversible impact on the city centre.

A study carried out to measure the impact of the development on Ely’s city centre by applicants Healy Investment determined that it would lead to a drop in footfall of somewhere between five and eight per cent.

The Ely Traders Association disputed this, however, saying that the impact could be as much as 15 per cent based on its own study.

The association added that, based on other work it had carried out, it had found that the Sainsbury’s supermarket in Lisle Lane had already caused a seven per cent decline in footfall to city centre shops.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Gareth Wilson said: “We are very proud that Ely has a thriving market and the last thing we want to do is to smash it up and delegate to some officers to sort out some mitigation.”

Cllr Ian Allen, added: “People come to Ely because of its ‘specialness’ not because it will become another Stevenage.”

And Cllr Derek Beckett said: “What concerns me is that we are being presented with an industrial warehouse. I fail to see why we are being rail-roaded into something even our officers are not totally happy with.”

Councillors were also unhappy that the development will, according to planning officials, absorb the entire requirement for retail floor space in Ely up to 2031, making it difficult for other large retailers to move into the city in the future.

Healy told the council it had owned the site for six years and said it has struggled to find a suitable use outside of the retail park proposal.

As well as the Tesco outlet, there will also be six non-food retail units, a restaurant, hotel and offices on the site.