BUSINESS heavyweights in St Austell have thrown their support "in principle" behind a retail development at Coyte Farm – two months after a £110 million scheme was rejected.
The latest twist in the controversial saga comes as the St Austell Bay Economic Forum (SABEF) said it had agreed to express in-principle support for the proposed development of the greenfield land, west of St Austell.
The scheme, which is anchored by Marks & Spencer, has polarised the town and was refused by just one vote when it went to Cornwall Council's strategic planning committee in January.
Companies behind the multimillion-pound project, London Metric Property and Mercian Developments, have already vowed not to walk away from the site and have signalled an intention to submit a revised application later in the year.
Now they have secured the backing of SABEF, whose figurehead is St Austell Brewery boss James Staughton, which says the development has the potential, subject to final details of the fresh application, to generate a "significant boost to the vitality and economic prosperity to the area".
SABEF calls itself a forum for business leaders and stakeholders from Fowey to Mevagissey, including St Austell and the Clay Country.
Despite its support SABEF says it understands the concerns of some local traders and 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.
SABEF told the Cornish Guardian it had waited until now to signal support, to ensure the "dust had settled" following the highly emotive debate around the development. It decided to offer its "qualified support" only after hearing "considerable public backing" for the scheme.
Mr Staughton, SABEF's chairman, 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," he said.
But Together St Austell, which is also formed by business leaders and is working on a rival scheme to Coyte Farm, said it was surprised that SABEF was signalling its support for an application, not yet submitted.
John Kneller, chairman of St Austell Together, said: "The out-of-town retail park at St Mewan did not meet the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework, would have had a detrimental impact on St Austell and was refused on planning grounds. Therefore to show support for a new planning application that has not as yet been submitted is somewhat premature."
Simon Hoare, spokesman for Coyte Farm, said they were delighted to have secured support for the Coyte Farm development.
"SABEF is the major, strategic economic organisation in St Austell and their support is welcome and significant," he said.
Mr Hoare said the companies are preparing a second application to Cornwall Council, which will seek to address the reasons for refusals on the first proposal.
"This will take a little time and we would hope to submit this further application by June. Local people can rest assured – we are totally committed to delivering our proposal."