THE OWNER of a 98-acre site proposed for a £110 million retail development at St Austell has broken his silence.
Farmer John Richards, 64, has lived on Coyte Farm for most of his life, but said he approached Mercian Developments Ltd as he is thinking about retirement.
Mercian plan to turn the green fields into a top shopping destination with interest from Marks and Spencer and a deal already in place for a Sainsbury's supermarket, along with 160,000sq ft of retail space.
But the plan has been met with criticism from traders who fear it will kill the town centre.
"The opposition [to the scheme] have said St Austell town centre is a vibrant, wonderful place that's improving. But I went into the town on Wednesday, December 19, at about 4.45pm and took some photos and I didn't get 12 people in them," said Mr Richards.
"Vibrancy? Where are the people on the last Wednesday for shopping before Christmas? The shops were absolutely empty. I only spotted two people doing business in the phone shop.
"This is not a vibrant town the way St Austell Bay Chamber of Commerce and some town councillors are depicting it – it's a complete fallacy.
"That town should have been thriving – I bet Truro and Plymouth were."
The chamber of commerce and resident-led group Stop Coyte Farm have opposed the development, saying it will destroy trade in the town centre.
"St Austell has been trying for years to get Sainsbury's and Marks and Spencer and now they've got them. They have said they won't come to the town centre," said Mr Richards.
He added that Coyte Farm was not desirable as farmland as it is too close to a main road.
Tom French, chairman of St Austell Bay Chamber of Commerce, said: "You have got to remember who is making these observations; a man who is going to make a considerable amount of money out of this development.
"I'm afraid at 4.45 on a winter's night, after the school run, mums are worrying about getting their kids home and getting them tea so it's going to be a quiet time in the town."
Cornwall Council's strategic planning committee is due to make a decision over Coyte Farm and other supermarket developments in St Austell on Thursday, January 17.