MAJOR high street retailer Primark is believed to be close to agreeing a deal to open a store at the planned £110 million Coyte Farm development, the Cornish Guardian has learnt.
On the eve of on one of the biggest decisions in St Austell's history, where the Coyte Farm application will be decided, sources close to the development say a deal with Primark is imminent.
It is understood that the store would be the biggest in the South West, at around 50,000sq ft, and would be Cornwall's first store, creating around 200 jobs.
The news comes as Cornwall Council's strategic planning committee prepares to make a final decision on the scheme tomorrow.
"It would be the first Primark store in Cornwall and the largest store in the South West," the source said.
If approved tomorrow, the 90-acre development would also incorporate a Next, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury's supermarket on the site in St Mewan, which it is said will bring hundreds of jobs to the town and provide an economic boost to Cornwall.
However, the application has divided the town with many traders fearing it will kill the town centre.
Hundreds of people, both for and against the development, are expected to gather outside County Hall in Truro in a final bid to sway councillors' votes ahead of the crunch meeting.
Simon Hoare, Coyte Farm spokesperson, said he hoped councillors would recognise the potential benefits the development would bring to St Austell.
"I hope the strategic planning committee realise the importance of this proposal and recognise the benefits it will bring," he said.
"This is a scheme that is funded and deliverable and is not a pipe dream. This is going to deliver those national retailers that people want to see."
Trader Ally Watkins, who established the Stop Coyte Farm campaign two years ago, said she is expecting large numbers of people to gather at County Hall to have their say tomorrow morning.
"We are inviting people to come down to have their say one last time," she said.
Ms Watkins, who argues the development is too big and will put traders in the town centre out of business, is urging councillors to favour an alternative development outlined by a group of business leaders in the town – Together St Austell.
"Together St Austell has come up with something that offers intelligent design," she said.
"It's backed by developers who have already got £30 million invested in St Austell. Coyte Farm has held St Austell up for too long," she added.
In response to the opposition campaign, business consultant Tony Goodman established a rival group in support of the plans.
In November he set up the Facebook page The Silent Majority of St Austell Speak Up, which now has more than 800 supporters.
He argues up to 80 per cent of people in the town are in favour of Coyte Farm.
"I believe there is a silent majority being ignored largely because of apathy," Mr Goodman said.
"Most people will protest against things but they don't protest for things.
"It's a proven business model that has worked across the country. If you get big names in, other brands will follow.
"St Austell will not die. The town centre will not die. If people come to Coyte Farm they will come into St Austell."
The plans, jointly submitted by Mercial Developments, Metric Properties and Sainsburys, have been recommended for approval by Cornwall Council's planning officer.
Primark said due to company policy the chain was unable to comment on the claims of a deal.