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Popular Bere Alston convenience store proposal on hold

The current Bere Alston Co-op which could be replaced with a convenience store on the edge of the village (courtesy: Google Maps)

Planners say it's a difficult decision as may cause closure of village shops

A decision on whether a convenience store will be built on the edge of a Devon village has been put on hold.

West Devon councillors have deferred the application by Westcountry Land for Bere Alston. Officers want them to turn it down.

West Devon Borough Council's development management and licensing committee admitted having difficulty making a decision, saying the proposal is “finely balanced”

It wants more time to come up with conditions around reducing carbon footprint, the impact on the landscape and village shops so they can support the store plans.

Officers had based their recommendation on a desktop assessment which suggested that one or more of the shops in the centre of Bere Alston, which included a pharmacy, butchers and bakery, would close if the convenience store is approved.

They also said customers would have to drive to the shop rather than walk, cycle or use public transport, their policies didn't support development in the open countryside, and the noise would impact on a property 15 metres away.

The proposal has been driven by supermarket chain Co-op’s desire to move from its “small and cramped” village centre store to the proposed site on the B3257, creating a 350 square metre facility.

The Co-op says its current shop is “not fit for purpose” and has no disabled access or parking for its 10 staff, an outside toilet and limited storage space. It has indicated that it will close whatever the outcome of the planning application.

But planners were reminded that they were not considering a proposal from Co-op; it was for a convenience store, meaning any retailer could set up shop.

The planning committee was told that the proposal would mean more people shopping in the catchment of the Bere Peninsula, which has 3,000 residents, and the majority of the public were in favour, following two rounds of public consultations, a public meeting and a survey.

Currently 75 per cent of shopping is done in Tavistock, 20 minutes away, which has a range of supermarkets.

Chairman of Bere Ferrers Parish Council Brian Lamb said the village is committed to building 100 new homes in the next few years, many of which would be within walking distance of the proposed store, and added: “We don’t have the infrastructure to deal with the size of the village now, let alone in the future.”

He said the proposal would relieve congestion in the high street and is on a bus route. He asked that the village’s 30mph speed limit be extended if the plans go ahead.

Cllr Isobel Saxby (Lab, Bere Ferrers) said Bere Alston could be a sustainable place, but too many residents do their main shop in Tavistock for the range of food choices, including her 86-year-old grandmother who longs for something similar in Bere Alston.

“It’s really important that we provide services for people who are living here, create job opportunities and build a strong economy.”

The committee heard that 20 more jobs would be created by the development and that the store would be open from 7am to 10pm.

Councillors said that with two conflicting retail assessments, one commissioned by the council, and another from the applicant, plus the fine economic balance and sustainability arguments, they were  “in some difficulty.”

The proposal will be discussed again in April.

John Schuttkacker from applicants Westcountry Land said it was “frustrating” that no decision had been reached, but he appreciated that members wanted some more clarity around conditions.

He said he hoped the committee would eventually support the plans and that the current Co-op store didn’t close in the meantime leaving the village without a convenience store.

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