Supporters say store will bring shoppers to town

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A HOME furnishings store has been given planning permission to open in Bury St Edmunds despite fears it could hit town centre trade.

However, Dunelm Mill, which will create 80 new jobs, has said it still might not be able to open its store at the St Edmundsbury Retail Park off Easlea Road.

The former MFI shop has been empty for three years and Standard Life Investments, which will lease the site to Dunelm, had to seek consent for a change of use for the building.

That was approved on Thursday – but the store says a planning condition that requires Standard Life to fund £160,000 towards bus shelters and town centre improvements ‘significantly affects the viability of the scheme’.

Standard Life says £10,000 is more reasonable.

A Dunelm spokeswoman said: “We understand the owners of St Edmundsbury Retail Park will be negotiating the final wording of the consent with planning officers over the coming weeks and we hope these conditions can be sensibly modified or removed and we can open our store as planned.”

The site originally only had permission to sell bulky goods – just 11 per cent of the items that Dunelm will sell are classed as bulky goods. That prompted an argument from councillors at a meeting earlier this month who said other items like curtains, which the shop will sell, should also be classed as bulky.

Planning officers at a meeting of St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s development control committee on Thursday said policies were in place to protect town centre trade. It is estimated that the Dunelm scheme will deflect one per cent of trade, or £200,000 a year, away from the town centre, they said.

Planning policy and specialist services manager Ian Poole said the store could actually lead to the loss of jobs and more empty units in the town and could also set a planning precedent. Glasswells had a similar scheme turned down two years ago.

But councillors argued that the new Dunelm store would actually bring shoppers into Bury.

Cllr Robert Clifton-Brown said it could stop people going to Ipswich in the same way as the arc development.

And Cllr David Lockwood said: “This company, its name, may bring people into Bury. We are doing well compared to other shopping centres and this will only help.”