THE proposed £110 million retail park at Coyte Farm has been earmarked for approval ahead of a crunch meeting later this month that will decide the controversial scheme's fate.
Cornwall Council officers claimed the development's benefits outweigh the impact it would have on St Austell town centre, in a report published yesterday.
If approved, the Coyte Farm plan – submitted by Metric Property and Mercian Developments – would see a major new retail park built, including Marks and Spencer, Next and Sainsbury's stores at St Mewan. In the report to members, council officers argue the development will bring economic growth to the town and improve competition and choice in the retailing sector for local residents, which they suggest would outweigh both the "substantial harm" it would cause to a grade 2 listed church in St Mewan and the loss of trade for shops in the town centre.
"The application would stimulate economic growth, via a fully funded scheme with a construction value of £50m which in turn would create employment opportunity to the benefit of the local economy," the report said.
The document states the development will harm the "vitality and viability" of St Austell but would create more jobs for the town as a whole.
"It may well result with the loss of employment opportunity elsewhere by the retail component drawing trade to the detriment of existing shops but a significant net gain in employment is expected," it said.
A retail impact assessment carried out by property consultants GVA, on behalf of the council, concluded the development would result in a 28 percent reduction in trade for shops in the town centre.
However, Mr Mason suggests the figure would be more in line with the conclusions reached by the applicant's consultants, Barton Willmore, which concluded the figure would be in the region of seven per cent.
"I have not attempted to identify a specific figure for trade impact," Gavin Smith, author of the report said.
"But when considering the assumptions underpinning the applicant's and CC [Cornwall Council] consultant's findings, the impact to the town centre is more likely to be similar with the applicant's forecast."
His report concludes the development would cause "substantial harm" the setting of St Mewan Churchtown, but this is outweighed by the "substantial public benefit" the development would bring to the town.
"I acknowledge the requirement to allocate special regard to the desirability of preserving the setting of Churchtown and that the affected heritage item is a national asset, but the identified public benefits are such that they outweigh the significance of any adverse effects on the listed buildings," he said.
Coyte Farm spokesman Simon Hoare welcomed the recommendations made in the report.
He said: "This is a major step forward to have secured recommendation to approve, which we very much hope the strategic planning committee will agree when it meets next week.
He added: "It is great news for the local economy, for the job market and for the future of St Austell."
Mr Mason's report states Cornwall Council received 414 letters and emails objecting to the plans, including two petitions with a combined total of more than 3,000 signatures, compared to 855 letters and emails in support of the application.
St Austell trader Ally Watkins, who set up the Stop Coyte Farm campaign, said she was disappointed with the findings of the officer.
"Coyte Farm is just far too big." she said.
"It is all about a developer making a lot of money out of Cornwall at everybody else's expense"
"If it is approved it is not just St Austell that will suffer so will all the towns within a 25 mile radius."
The plans will go before the council's strategic planning committee on Thursday January 16.