Council’s retail advisers fear impact on Ely shops but 10 acre, £4m a year turn-over farm shops complex gets green light
- Credit: Lyons + Sleeman + Hoare
Councillors threw caution –and their own retail adviser’s hesitancy – to the wind to agree an upmarket £4m a year turnover retail park near Ely that could attract 170,000 visitors a year.
A 10-acre site within Harlock’s Farm in Stuntney will house artisan shops, a café and a micro-brewery.
Around 30 jobs will be created on the farm off the A142 Soham Road between The Old Hall and Barcham Trees.
Harlock’s described it to East Cambridgeshire District Council planning committee as an “enticing small-scale destination” venture.
Projections considered by councillors included the view that “the venue would need to be in the order of same popularity as Ely Cathedral in terms of visitor numbers”.
The council brought in retail specialists WYG who concluded that “there is sufficient doubt to suggest that impacts on existing centres might reach significant adverse levels and so the proposal should be refused”.
WYG noted that: “It is unclear how the proposal might operate and what target market it is seeking.
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“In our view the applicant has failed to demonstrate why the proposal should be located in this rural location – the link to the farm rural location is unclear.”
The retail specialists felt it was unclear who might rent the retail units and so therefore it was difficult to assess the competitive overlap to Ely and Soham.
Their stark assessment, tempered slightly during lengthy exchanges with council officers, saw conditions attached to protect businesses in Ely, Soham and Littleport.
These, for example, ensure only an independent restaurant or café can open there, and must use where possible food sourced from the Harlocks farm estate.
“For the avoidance of doubt, produce sourced directly from Harlocks Farm Estate can include, but not be limited to, potatoes, onions, celery, venison, partridge, pheasant, and/or pigeon,” says one condition.
Harlock’s will be told to keep a register which can be inspected at any time by council officials to ensure “the primary shopping role of the local centres of Ely, Littleport and Soham” are not prejudiced,
Any retailer who has more than nine or more other outlets will be banned from taking space, again to protect local shops.
And any retailer locally who has been in business for a year before the complex opens will be prevented from moving there for the first three years.
Councillors were told by their officers that “as this would be a unique facility, and the first in the district, a careful approach was taken to ensure that the local centres of Ely, Soham and Littleport would not be adversely affected and remain resilient”.
Recommending approval, planning officers concluded: “The proposal would offer and contribute a unique experience to all visitors and tourists visiting the area whilst complementing the existing retail and leisure facilities within the local centres, and therefore boosting economy and tourism.”
The conditions also state there needs to be a dedicated amount of space for crafts people to make goods sold on site.
Consultees, the City of Ely Council, said they had no concerns other than to ensure shop units were restricted to artisan traders only.
“This was discussed at great length and a vote had to be taken on this application, with six members supporting it and four members against it,” said a report before the planning committee
Harlock’s told the council that apart from construction, the new retail outlet would create 30 full time equivalent jobs and benefit local supply chain.
And with linked trips to adjacent Barcham Trees and to the city itself, it will be boost tourism.
The proposed retail floorspace would be expected to generate a turnover of £3.88 million, potentially up to £4.32m at 2023.
It is anticipated that 55 per cent of this turnover would be generated by visitors living in the area.
Barlock’s potential occupiers could include independent or small-chain shops, cafes, restaurants, wine sellers / artisan brewer sales, delicatessen, butchery, health, speciality and lifestyle retail, as well as complementary activities such as cookery schools, gym / fitness space, children’s play”.
The site is separated by two adjoining fields from the Old Hall, Ely, a Jacobean manor house operation as an wedding venue which is owned by Harlock’s. Ironically as part of their application Harlock’s had to look at alternative sites previously identified for retail development.
These included The Grange, home to East Cambridgeshire Council which had been allocated with the Local Plan for 4,200 sq metres of retail space, 50 homes and open space,
But “given the lack of firm relocation options for the council” it was concluded that this was a non-starter.