The news that proposals to sub divide the former Homebase premises at Fife Central Retail Park in Kirkcaldy into five smaller units with two additional food “pods” have been granted on appeal has met with a mixed reaction.
While the retail park’s owners Hammerson (Kirkcaldy) Ltd. said the £10m investment would bring 200 jobs to the town, others, including Bill Harvey, manager of the Kirkcaldy Business Improvement District, Kirkcaldy4All, said it was another nail in the coffin of the town’s ailing High Street.
Fife Council’s central area planning committee refused the application back in June, with the main reason given that it would have a detrimental effect on Kirkcaldy’s town centre, as well as those in Leven and Glenrothes.
But Hammerson appealled the decision, saying the type of shops it would attract were of a different nature to those in the High Street.
And last week a Scottish Government reporter appointed to make a decision on the appeal ruled in favour of the company, granting permission for the sub-division work to go ahead, with a number of conditions attached.
The main one of these stipulates that only retailers selling “bulky goods” such as furniture or electrical appliances will be allowed to trade from the units to minimise the impact on the town centre.
The appeal site of 1.75 hectares includes the former Homebase store as well as other units in phase one of the retail park, and the appeal grants demolition of the store to allow its redevelopment and extension to form five new units, including improvements to the existing facades of units 2-5 and increased parking spaces from 237 to 244, with two food pods on the south side.
The new units will include a mezzanine level, almost doubling the existing floor space available.
In his report, the Scottish Government reporter said that the appeal had been granted for a number of reasons.
John H Martin, the reporter responsible for making the decision, concluded: “The unit sizes within the proposed development would be too large to be accommodated in vacant shops and other sites within or on the edge of Kirkcaldy town centre, and the conditions restricting sales to bulky goods, minimum unit sizes and no subdivision would ensure that the development would not compete with other stores in the town, so any impact on its vitality and viability would be kept to a minimum.”
He added that it met all the relevant provisions of the development plan and there were “no material considerations which would still justify refusing the grant planning permission.”
A spokesman for Hammerson, the company in charge of the retail park, said: “We are pleased with the outcome of the appeal as the decision marks a positive step forward in our plans to reinvigorate the retail park.
“Our £10 million investment will attract new retailers to the town as well as providing a welcome boost to local employment in the area, with 200 jobs created.
Kirkcaldy4All called on the Scottish Government to support town centres.
Bill Harvey, BID manager, said: “We didn’t object to be awkward and we are not against development and job creation. We objected to protect the town centre.
“Having read through the findings I think we have done as well as we could from it. Fife Council has been very diligent and asked for conditions and there are 15 attached to it, the main one being that the shops will only be allowed to sell bulky goods. Hopefully the council will monitor it to ensure these conditions are adhered to.
“It will impact on the town centre and the reporter recognises that. We have to adapt, but I would suggest it would be better to do that from a town centre that is still alive rather than one being killed off, because we won’t recover from that.
“We need the support of the government as well as the local authority.”Councillor Neil Crooks, chairman of Kirkcaldy area committee, said he was disappointed with the decision.
“We try locally to support our town centre and clearly in yet another case, the Scottish Government reporter disagrees with us.
“Hammerson is investing a significant sum into the Fife Retail Park to attract new retailers with hopefully new jobs.
“Our objection was not to the investment or the jobs but to the threat posed by smaller units providing outlets which people can currently enjoy in the High Street.
“I made direct representations to Hammerson regarding the need to improve traffic and pedestrian flows in the retail park, and I hope it will further engage with us to refine those options to get best value.”
Councillor Tom Adams, who voted against the proposals, added: “It is totally detrimental to the High Street. We have lost Tesco and BHS – two big units which could be getting used for shops similar to those proposed at the retail park.
“When the Scottish Government has been promoting High Street regeneration, where does it leave things if its Reporter isn’t trying to protect them?
“First it was Next then M&S, now this at the retail park.
“They have free parking, the High Street doesn’t. We are just killing off the High Street.”
Councillor George Kay, who voted in favour of the original application, said: “At planning I found it difficult, when viewing the range of products being proposed for sale, to see where any huge impact on the High Street was going to come from.
“I think the question which those opposed to this development must ask, should be ‘if not this development for the old Homebase building then what would be acceptable?’ Or would they prefer to see the building sitting empty forever.
“I do feel, as I said at the planning committee, we must have a positive direction for Kirkcaldy High Street and not continually be defensive. I am happy to work with others on new initiatives, on new directions which will see people return to use the High Street. We must not let ourselves be continually entrenched in notions which are 50 years out of date.”