Dransfield warning on proposal for retail park

Mark Dransfield, managing director of Dransfield Properties. Picture by Jane Coltman.
Mark Dransfield, managing director of Dransfield Properties. Picture by Jane Coltman.
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The company that runs Sanderson Arcade has said it would sell its property interests in Morpeth if a new commercial development is approved.

Mark Dransfield, managing director of Dransfield Properties, made the comment this week as he believes such a scheme would have major negative consequences for retailers in the town centre.

His letter is among more than 1,100 to be submitted in objection to plans for new housing on a large part of the current County Hall site and a retail scheme on the former fire station and Merley Croft sites that would include retail floor space, a food store, a drive-thru restaurant and a family pub/restaurant.

Other issues raised include health concerns in relation to the drive-thru restaurant as Morpeth First School is set to be re-located to an area in front of the current County Hall buildings.

Dransfield Properties has been involved with Morpeth since 2006 when it identified the town as suitable for a new shopping centre as it needed investment and did not have any major out-of-town retail.

Sanderson Arcade was opened by Joanna Lumley in November 2009 and the firm was behind last year’s re-development of the former Morrisons store into units for three retailers – Pets at Home, Next and Home Bargains.

Mr Dransfield said: “We welcome more investment into Morpeth. But new investment needs to be in the right place, where it can further strengthen and add to the town centre mix, not in a location where it will mean that over a quarter of the spending currently made in town centre food stores is lost out of town, and jeopardise many jobs.

“I’ve made it clear to the leadership of the council and the community that if the commercial scheme near County Hall is approved and progresses, we will be selling our investments in Morpeth.

“It’s a shame that Northumberland County Council is taking this position as we’ve worked with local authorities in the past to prevent Focus DIY, Homebase, Tesco and Sainsbury’s from building bid developments on the edge of Morpeth.

“We are already disappointed with the council’s reluctance to take action against Heighley Gate, which has transformed from a garden centre into an out-of-town shopping centre.

“A small convenience store and doctors and dentists would be appropriate development on this site, but these plans are completely inappropriate.”

Coun Joan Tebbutt of the South Morpeth Coalition group said: “This whole situation is very worrying. An edge-of-town retail park would simply displace trade and jobs from the town centre.

“Morpeth residents will not wake up with an extra £50 in their pockets just because a retail park has been built.

“If Dransfield Properties sold up, I fear for the long-term economic viability of Morpeth’s town centre.”

Coun David Bawn, county councillor for Morpeth North, added: “Mark Dransfield has invested heavily in Morpeth and his regeneration of the Sanderson Arcade has helped re-vitalise our town.

“The fact that the actions of our own current council are now attacking the viability of our town centre so much that he is considering withdrawing is a disgrace.”

A county council spokeswoman said: “As this is an active planning application, the council isn’t able to comment further at this stage.

“All comments made in response to the planning application will be fully taken into account by the strategic planning committee in due course.”