Sainsbury’s may have won a battle but the war for Cheddar is not over.
Main rival Tesco is meeting Cheddar AFC and consultancy Sports Solution to see if their dual plans will be put to Sedgemoor District Council – and the indication was it would.
The official word is still expected but if Tesco pushes ahead to build a 1,865 sq m store on Bowdens Park then it will be a challenging situation for Sedgemoor as the authority has given conditional approval for a Sainsbury’s twice that size on the opposite side of Cheddar.
The go-ahead to Sainsbury’s to build a food store, cafe, car park and landscaping at Steart Farm angered many of those who turned out at Sedgemoor’s HQ in Bridgwater on Friday.
The development control committee voted approval seven for, five against after a two-and-a-half hour debate.
The store bid divided the committee on many issues like transport, tourism and retail impact.
It was heard Sainsbury’s could take up to £3.9 million of the retail expenditure from Cheddar village centre, and inflict a 53 per cent hit in the convenience trade like Budgens and Tesco Express.
Sainsbury’s offered a £350,000 package of help to the village, including:
Free parking worth £200,000 for the next five years;
Shop front improvement worth £100,000;
A Cheddar village centre improvement plan (£20,000);
Better signs (£20,000);
Maps and guides (£10,000).
Carol Wilkie of Keep Cheddar Special called the package “paltry and meaningless” with no mitigation for surrounding villages.
Paul Fineran, chairman of Cheddar Parish Council’s planning committee, said shops in Cheddar already offered subsidised parking and that four convenience stores were threatened, not just two as said in the reports.
Planning permission is subject to negotiation of the mitigation package and approval of some elements by Natural England.
Not everyone was against the plan. Barry Carter of Cheddar Parish Council said he didn’t believe the “Armageddon” situation presented by objectors and Jaime Powell of Sainsbury’s cited comments from the consultation saying Sainsbury’s would be a “local godsend”.
It was heard 70 per cent of shoppers leave Cheddar for their “big weekly shop” every week, with just under a third of convenience spending staying in the village.
But the resultant claw back of money did not translate into guaranteed linked trips into the village centre, quoted at a possible £1.9 million.
Councillor Dawn Hill, who voted for approval, said: “No retail outlet can afford to lose 25 or 53 per cent of its trade. One has got to see if the proposed mitigation offsets that. If it comes to mitigation maybe it should come to the parish council for discussion as well.
“My biggest concern is about traffic. I was disappointed to read that Somerset County Council felt there was no need to ask for further highway improvement. It’s about Fiveways Bridge, about Station Road and Wedmore Road which are already clogged with traffic.”
It was heard the use of Fiveways Bridge was expected to jump up 12 per cent from 72 per cent capacity and widening the bridge was the subject of talks between developers of a nearby housing project.
Councillor Robert Downing, who also voted for approval, said: “I’m a great believer of customer choice and I think it would be wrong to write off Budgens as a competitor.
“Transport does worry me. It’s all very well to say that Fiveways Bridge has spare capacity, perhaps in terms of traffic, but in terms of safety that’s a different thing.”
The football pitch-sized store will have Cheddar Business Park on its east side and will require the demolition of a house in the north and a roundabout put onto Wedmore Road.
Sedgemoor received 596 letters of objection and a petition, and 207 letters of support.