Waitrose in secret talks
12:18 26 February 2013
Supermarket giant Waitrose is in secret talks with the county council about acquiring its bus depot for a new store.
But if the plans go ahead, it could sink East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) masterplan and its hopes of regenerating Exmouth.
The district council has already earmarked the nearby rugby ground, which it owns, for sale to a superstore, with the funds going towards the town’s facelift.
The Journal has learned agents acting for Waitrose are negotiating with the county’s property representatives NPS - and preliminary proposals could be filed within a month.
A county council spokesman confirmed that NPS ‘had been approached by a development company, regarding the future of the land if Stagecoach were to vacate’.
A Waitrose spokesman said: “We’re often linked to potential sites and, although we have no plans at this moment in time, we are keen to increase our presence in the South West and in Exmouth.”
Meanwhile, district chiefs are hoping to start a supermarket tendering process for a ‘preferred bidder’ for the rugby ground by early next year. The rugby club would move to the Rolle Playing Fields as part of the deal.
The district council said this week the Exmouth Masterplan was ‘not primarily concerned’ with where best to put a food store - but how best to regenerate Exmouth town centre.
In response to the interest from Waitrose, a district council spokesman said: “Interest is shown in sites all the time and applications are regularly put forward.
“But if it was pursued (the Waitrose plans), it would be hard to see how this would deliver the regeneration ambitions for Exmouth as approved by the town, district and county councils.”
The rugby ground is categorised by the Environment Agency (EA) as being at a ‘high risk’ of flooding.
Before EDDC can ‘promote’ the ground for a food store, the Environment Agency says a vital two-stage flood test must be carried out.
The first would determine if any lower risk sites are available nearby – and district chiefs say this will begin within a month.
If lesser-risk sites are not available to the district council, a second ‘exception test’ judged by environment chiefs would be needed.
The bus depot is on higher ground and at less of a risk of flooding – The Journal understands that Waitrose would not want to develop the rugby ground because of the high cost of new flood defences.
An Environment Agency spokesman said: “They (EDDC) would have to demonstrate that the economic benefits outweighed the flood risks and that the area (rugby ground) was safe.”
The spokesman said if the test failed, the the district council could choose to ignore the Environment Agency’s recommendations.
“But if it went to judicial review, they (EDDC) would be on the back foot,” he said.