Waitrose dismisses rival North Walsham supermarket plan as a ‘red herring’

A Waitrose chief has dismissed as a 'red herring' the shock revelation that another supermarket could be vying for a site in North Walsham.

James Gilhooley, Waitrose head of property, said he felt 'quite relaxed' at this week's announcement that two development companies were negotiating with a major retailer to build a store on edge-of-town Midland Road, creating up to 200 jobs.

Mr Gilhooley was in Walsham today at the launch of Waitrose's two-day public exhibition on its �4m-plus proposed conversion of the 21,000 sq ft former Focus DIY store on the town's Cromer Road, creating 150 jobs. The town already has a Sainsbury's and a Lidl.

Petros and Hartfield Developments have not revealed the name of the potential supermarket nor the exact site of the Midland Road scheme but say they expect to hold a public consultation in the next couple of months, and submit a planning application shortly after.

Mr Gilhooley said the move was 'typical of developers'. The site had been known about for many years but they had left it until the week of Waitrose's exhibition to declare themselves.

'It's all very vague. They've got an awful lot of work to do. He (David Collins of Petros) must be embarrassed that he can't name names. It certainly won't happen this year whereas we could be open in October,' said Mr Gilhooley.

Waitrose's exhibition attracted crowds of interested residents and other visitors to the town today, its traditional market day.

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They picked up leaflets, read information boards, quizzed Waitrose representatives and filled in forms recording their views on the proposal.

Mr Gilhooley said the results would be analysed to gauge whether the move was popular and he expected some suggestions would be acted on. The store already hoped to provide a bus stop on Cromer Road, to be used by the existing Sanders services.

He anticipated a planning application could be submitted to North Norfolk District Council by the end of the month.

Reaction to Waitrose's intentions so far had been 'very encouraging,' said Mr Gilhooley.

'The feeling is that it's a bit of a one-horse town that could definitely do with more variety,' he said.

Walsham benefited from being at the centre of a large hinterland and they anticipated Waitrose would draw customers from a 25-mile radius.

The store would be revitalising a site which was at risk of becoming a vandalised eyesore, it was likely to attract other businesses to the area and the local people employed by Waitrose would spend their money in the town.

'We only open a few stores a year and this is a big commitment for us in the current climate but we wouldn't be doing it if we didn't think North Walsham could support it,' he added.

'North Walsham needs to make the most of this investment. It could put the town back on the map. Estate agents will be adding it to house details as a selling point: 'North Walsham has a Waitrose.''

? The exhibition continues tomorrow in the Dayspring Centre at the town's Grammar School Road Methodist Church from 11am to 6pm.

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