Cautious welcome for Waitrose in North Walsham
Waitrose looks set for a warm welcome in North Walsham - although there are fears about an out-of-town supermarket's impact on established traders.
The up-market national chain wants to open a much-anticipated north Norfolk branch in Walsham's vacant Focus DIY building, half a mile from the town centre, on Cromer Road.
The store would create 150 jobs for local people and could be open by next autumn.
Waitrose says it could not find a town-centre site but believes its presence could prompt other businesses to invest in North Walsham.
The store hopes to attract shoppers from throughout north Norfolk - including the less affluent as hundreds of its goods are price-matched against Tesco's.
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Mair Stockdale, chairman of North Walsham Chamber of Trade, said members were 'on the whole' in favour of the move, as they did not like to see empty sites in or around the town.
It would increase choice, bring jobs, raise the area's profile and 'bring people in to North Walsham who might not otherwise come to the area.'
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But Mrs Stockdale added: 'The chamber are concerned for their members who are traders in the town such as the butchers, the greengrocers and chemists, as they may suffer from the public shopping at Waitrose instead of at their shops.'
Walsham already has in-town supermarkets Sainsbury's and Lidl. Waitrose, which has Norfolk stores in Eaton, near Norwich, Wymondham and Swaffham, has long been hunting for a suitable location in north Norfolk and thought it had found it last year, on Sheringham's Weybourne Road.
That Greenhouse Community Project - including a Waitrose store, food academy and kitchen garden - was initially backed by councillors but was eventually thrown out on North Norfolk District Council planning officers' advice in favour of an application by Tesco, because it was nearer the town centre.
Waitrose director of development Nigel Keen said they had been disappointed at not being able to open in Sheringham but believed North Walsham was an 'exciting opportunity to make a major investment in the town, which would bring a vacant building back into use.'
There had been no suitable central sites but they aimed to complement the town centre and wanted to meet traders to discuss how they could work together.
He added: 'Through revitalising a empty unit we can deliver a significant number of new jobs for local people and play our part in giving more businesses the confidence to invest here. It's important North Walsham doesn't miss out on the investment that continues to be made in the surrounding areas.
'We don't have a store in north Norfolk so it would give shoppers in the area their first opportunity to discover our offer. It would represent a major investment for us so we need to be confident it can trade well for sustained period and our experience elsewhere suggests people are willing to travel for quality and value.'
North Walsham county councillor Paul Morse said Waitrose was a quality store and a quality employer.
He added: 'Waitrose is going to come somewhere in north Norfolk - let's have them in North Walsham.
'What we have somehow got to ensure is that we find a way of attracting those new people into the town centre too. Perhaps there could be something in the way of 106 planning conditions to support the town centre.'
North Walsham mayor Vivienne Uprichard said she was personally delighted at the news but was concerned at the threat to existing stores.
And North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb thought that, in principle, the move looked like potentially very good news but he wanted to hear from local people and businesses and would remain neutral on the planning application.
Waitrose plans to hold a two-day exhibition in the town at the end of January and submit a planning application in February. It will also set up an information line and website.
The proposal is to convert the existing shell, expected to take eight weeks. The outside gardening area would become parking for customers.