HOMEWARE store Dunelm Mill is hoping it can win a battle for planning permission later this month and end a 12-year wait to open in Bury St Edmunds.
The soft furnishings and furniture store is looking to take on the former MFI site at the St Edmundsbury Retail Park, off Easlea Road, in a move that will create 80 jobs. The 28,000sqft site has been empty ever since MFI went into administration more than two years ago.
But the building only has planning permission to sell bulky goods such as furniture and Dunelm first needs to gain consent to sell non-bulky items from the site.
Councillors clashed with planning officers at a meeting of St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s development control committee on Thursday when the officers recommended the application be refused.
Officers said the application went against planning guidance as it would take about one per cent of trade away from the town centre and that there were already vacant units in the town.
Dunelm however said it has looked at eight other sites in the town but nowhere else was suitable.
Martin Way, acquisitions manager for Dunelm, said: “We strongly believe our offer is suitable for a retail park location. A large part of our offer is bulky items and the vast majority of our stores are on retail park locations.”
He said the store had been in negotiations with the council for 15 months and was disappointed that planning officers recommended refusal.
Cllr Robert Everitt spoke in favour of Dunelm. “I’m just not altogether convinced that Dunelm would be that significant a problem to the town centre of Bury – a thriving town that it is.”
And others argued Dunelm would attract more shopper to the town.
There was also an argument about the definition of bulky items. Bedding and curtains, which Dunelm sells, are not classed as bulky items under planning guidance.
Cllr Anne Gower was among several councillors who argued that despite the guidance they are heavy to carry back to a car.
“As a seasoned and experience shopper, I personally think there is a very strong case that you should be able to go to a location like this and buy these goods,” she added.
The meeting also heard that the same planning classification for bulk goods permits the Pets and Home store next door, while Matalan, which predominately sells clothing, was only allowed planning permission because the planning guidance at the time was different.
Councillors said they were minded to approve the application subject to planning conditions. The details of those conditions are to be discussed by the committee at a meeting on Thursday.