Supermarket interest in North Walsham, Holt and Wells sparks “urgent” move by North Norfolk District Council to protect town centres

A flurry of supermarket interest in north Norfolk towns has sparked an urgent bid to help secure cash deals aimed at reducing any damaging impact on existing high-street businesses.

Planning applications for supermarkets have been submitted by Waitrose for a site in North Walsham, Anglia Co-operative Society, in Wells-next-the-Sea, and national chains are also in talks with developers over two further sites in North Walsham, and land in Holt.

The activity has prompted a North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) chief to recommend that an interim policy on Section 106 agreements is drawn up 'as a matter of urgency' so that the council has a set of transparent rules with which to try and protect established town centres when considering applications from supermarkets.

Section 106 deals see developers agree to pay sums of money to councils to help cover costs which result from their development; for example, cash towards a new school where permission for a large housing estate has been granted.

NNDC chiefs fear that without a policy, supermarket developers could challenge attempts at Section 106 negotiation and communities could lose out, so they want an agreed procedure ready by June 1.

A report by NNDC director Steve Blatch to next Monday's cabinet says 'mitigation measures' to protect established high-street businesses might include asking supermarket developers for cash to fund town-centre enhancement works, management and marketing, local transport, and support for chambers of trade.

The report adds: 'to date the district council has not negotiated any such payments in respect of retail proposals in north Norfolk.'

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Because of the council's 'limited experience,' Mr Blatch suggests a retail consultant will need to be commissioned to assess the scale of any supermarket application's impact, and whether it could be made acceptable through mitigation measures.

The cabinet is asked to recommend to full council that a policy is drawn up based on a number of key principals, including talks with chambers of trade and town/parish councils to identify where cash could help.

Holt mayor Bryan Payne welcomed the move. Earlier this year it emerged that the Anglia Regional Co-operative Society was interested in the Thaxter's of Holt Timber and DIY yard.

Mr Payne said 106 monies could be used for some of the Holt Vision projects, which include the creation of new town squares, and for anything needed around the Thaxter's site.

Nicholas Lee, vice chairman of North Walsham Chamber of Trade, said members and town councillors had discussed the possibility of Waitrose being asked for 106 money to lease an NNDC car park in the town centre so that it could be used to provide two-hour free parking for shoppers.

'The largest thing that puts people off shopping in the town centre is the cost of parking. This would transform that situation,' said Mr Lee.