Sunken Tesco bid for North Walsham site

Entrance to The Lawns site at Paston Sixth Form College, North Walsham.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Entrance to The Lawns site at Paston Sixth Form College, North Walsham.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

A sunken Tesco on Paston College's Lawns site is among the bold plans of a would-be developer – but strong resistance from the principal and an expected decision on another North Walsham supermarket could scupper the vision.

London-based Saint James's Investments (SJI) has revealed itself as the firm behind proposals for The Lawns, one of the sixth-form college's two sites.

Christopher Borkowski, SJI managing director, said they wanted to buy The Lawns, rebuild 'a considerable part' of a new college on Paston's Station Road land, and then develop the site with a supermarket - bigger than the town's Sainsbury's - below a car park, plus restaurants, homes and possible medical facilities.

But college principal Kevin Grieve said he and the chairman of governors were 'not at all happy' with a 'purely speculative and unhelpful' bid when they were completely focused on maintaining Paston's high academic reputation.

'We don't want our attention diverted and we can't see the benefit to us of moving a lot of our provision to Station Road or to North Walsham of moving students out of the town centre,' said Mr Grieve.

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Mr Borkowski said SJI's bid would be undermined if North Norfolk District Council planners gave the go-ahead next Thursday to an edge-of-town supermarket at the former Marrick's Wire Ropes site, on Cromer Road.

SJI, which was known for developing supermarkets and was involved in the early stages with Norwich's Chapelfield mall site, was always talking to the leading names and he said 'Tesco's current behaviour' suggested that it anticipated moving on to the Marrick's site.

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But Mr Borkowski said Tesco was SJI's favoured store for The Lawns. He added: 'If the plan is approved on Thursday our position becomes much weaker in terms of the financial contribution we could offer Paston.'

SJI envisages building a supermarket under the present Lawns car park, at the same level as the lower, grassed, part of the site, with a new car park on top.

Mr Borkowski said the 'innovative' idea would reduce the visual impact of the store and homes built round quadrangles would also respect the historic setting. A large supermarket at The Lawns would attract more people into North Walsham, which Mr Borkowski described as having 'a very, very pretty town centre.'

But the town, like many others, was struggling because of out-of-town shopping habits and the difficult economic climate. 'Once you have enticed more people into the centre with this supermarket, you are 50pc of the way to persuading them to visit other places,' he added.

Mr Grieve said the college's corporation would discuss the proposal but it would have to be: 'a very substantial offer indeed for us even to consider it.' About 70pc of student provision was at The Lawns site and millions of pounds of further investment was planned. The college had attracted a record number of applications for September because of its reputation for fantastic results.

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