Fears for Fulwood post office after new Spar gets the go-ahead

Plans to open a third convenience store in a half-mile stretch of a Preston suburb could threaten one of the existing outlets in the area – and lead to the closure of the post office within it.

Sunday, 8th August 2021, 1:47 pm
Updated Sunday, 8th August 2021, 1:48 pm

That was the message to members of Preston City Council’s planning committee as they met to consider a proposal to build a new Spar shop on Watling Street Road in Fulwood.

Councillors gave the go ahead to the development – on the site of a former car dealership next to the area’s one-time police station – in spite of a warning from the owner of the Sharoe Green News store, located just yards away, about the potential consequences for his retail business and the post office facility he also runs.

Speaking on behalf of proprietor and postmaster Vivek Bhakta, who was unwell and could not attend the meeting, Idris Moorby told the committee that the new store “cannot be justified, is not needed and will more than likely result in the loss of an essential service”.

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Could Sharoe Green News - and the post office it houses - be under threat from a new convenience store opening nearby? (image: Google Streetview)

“There is no need for a convenience store at this site – 100 metres from it is Sharoe Green News and 800 metres [is] the Co-op convenience store [at the junction within Garstang Road].

“The application will affect significantly the viability of Sharoe Green News and, therefore, the post office itself [whose] loss would do irreparable harm to the community,” said Mr. Moorby, who added that the applicant had to demonstrate the need for the new shop because it was not located within a defined local centre.

However, planning officer James Mercer said that the proposal had passed what is known as the “sequential test” – showing that there were no suitable alternative sites within such a centre in the catchment area of the planned store. He also revealed that the proposed Spar development was also only a tenth of the size that would be required to trigger a retail impact assessment, which would have enabled members to consider the effect of the plan on existing similar businesses.

More than 60 people lodged objections to the new store – which will be operated by James Hall and Co – with concerns, variously, that the proposed 17-space car park would encourage people to drive to the site, but also that it was not big enough to meet demand.

Committee member Neil Darby said that he had experienced in his own ward “the nightmare” that can be caused by parking problems generated by convenience stores and questioned whether there was “any justification” for the car park falling three spaces short of the number stipulated by the council for such developments. However, Mr. Mercer said that the 20-space policy was a maximum rather than a minimum standard.

Cllr David Borrow said that the “maze” of cut-throughs between Watling Street Road and Victoria Road meant that the 600 people that could be served by the store would be within walking distance of it – but he acknowledged that if the post office were forced to close, it would be a “big hit” to the community.

But Cllr Jennifer Mein suggested that the new Spar could have the opposite effect to that feared by the Sharoe Green News owner.

“There is a post office on Garstang Road near Broadway that you have to queue [at] whatever time of day you go. They don’t sell groceries…they sell post office goods. So I think actually having a Spar [on Watling Street Road], with parking, would possibly benefit the [Sharoe Green] post office,” Cllr Mein explained.

Garrison ward councillor Freddie Bailey appealed to the committee to reject the application, warning that the Sharoe Green News store supported the post office – and that it would be unable to compete with two national chains on its doorstep. He also said that the proposed Spar site would be “perfect” for housing instead.

However, the application for the two-storey building – which would have a ground floor retail area with storage and office facilities upstairs – was passed unanimously.

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