PLANNING chiefs have urged councillors to refuse a £24million shopping centre expansion, which could create 500 jobs.
Retail park owner ING has submitted plans for the second phase of the Dalton Park development at Murton, to include a supermarket, five-screen cinema, 90-room hotel, restaurants and a petrol station.
However, Durham County Council’s planning committee has been recommended to reject the application, because of extra traffic and fears it would have a serious impact on the heart of Seaham.
Retail consultants believe approving the plan could cost the town’s Asda store more than £13million – almost half its trade.
And with an estimated three-quarters of Asda shoppers visiting other town centre businesses, the planning committee report warns the Dalton Park development would be “significantly harmful to the health of Seaham town centre as a whole”.
It was also estimated that £3.5million of trade would be taken from Asda at Peterlee, as well as £1million and £305,000 from businesses in Murton and Easington Colliery respectively.
The planning report stated: “The overall negative impact of the development significantly outweighs any potential regeneration and economic benefits the overall scheme may have.”
ING says says its latest plans for the revamped former pit tip site will not be viable without a supermarket, which will “act as a financial catalyst to the whole scheme”.
The firm claimed the council’s conclusions “appear to be drawn upon hypothesis and are unsubstantiated”, and that its own retail assessment shows the impact on Seaham “will not be significant”.
Easington MP Grahame Morris is backing the Dalton Park plans and believes the council’s planning committee will give it the green light – despite the recommendation from its own officers to reject the scheme.
“It will be down to the members of the planning committee to make a decision,” said Mr Morris.
“I think the benefits that it will bring are really what counts. There is massive public support for it as well.
“In East Durham, where we desperately need new jobs and new facilities, I think the case is overwhelming. It is a key element of the regeneration strategy for East Durham that the second phase of Dalton Park goes ahead and I am very supportive of it.
“I hope to convince the members of the planning committee that the merits of the application far outweigh the planning issues that the officers have outlined in their report.”
If councillors ignore their officers’ advice and approve the application when the committee meets on Tuesday, it would still need Government approval as it would be a major departure from the authority’s development plan.