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Plans stalled on start for Orchard extension
DEVELOPERS have been criticised after refusing to guarantee putting forward plans for a £125m shopping centre extension in 2013.
Hammerson, which owns the Orchard shopping centre, transformed Didcot when the first phase of the centre opened in 2005.
Then, in 2011, the developer and South Oxfordshire District Council announced plans for a second phase, to double the size of the centre and make it one of the region’s top shopping destinations.
A planning application was expected last year but it was not submitted to SODC and now there is uncertainty about the timetable for the development.
If no planning application is forthcoming in 2013, it is unlikely the original planned date for stores to open – 2014 – will be met.
Developers say they cannot guarantee the planning application will be submitted to SODC this year.
But Hammerson development manager Russell Beresford said it “remained confident” and was still negotiating with a number of major names.
He added: “Depending on the outcome of our current negotiations, we will bring forward a planning application as soon as retailers are signed up.
“We are committed to finding the right retailers for Didcot, although in the current economic climate this has taken longer than we had anticipated.”
In February last year, Marks & Spencer and Debenhams were named in a report to SODC, preparing for the second phase of the plan.
The town’s new Chamber of Commerce president Jayne Reddyhoff, who runs an e-commerce advice centre in Didcot, said: “It is extremely frustrating for everyone that there is no timetable for phase two.
“It’s possible that chains being lined up for the anchor stores are negotiating harder than expected because of the current economic climate.
“As a chamber, we will try to keep the pressure on Hammerson to keep us updated as soon as they do have news about plans going in.
“The Orchard Centre has been a huge boost for Didcot but it is frustrating that there is no proper timetable yet for phase two.
“The longer this goes on, the more uncertainty it creates, particularly for traders in Lower Broadway who will have to move to make way for the extension.
“The Entertainer, a new toy shop opened in the Orchard Centre before Christmas and Sainsbury’s car park is always quite full, so I think we can be reasonably optimistic.”
Town council leader Margaret Davies said: “I believe it’s crucial that a planning application comes forward for phase two this year – developers should not be dithering on this any longer.”
Nick Jones, a spokesman for property consultant GL Hearn, which is acting for Hammerson, added: “Hammerson is unable to confirm a timetable – it has to make sure it has the right retailers.”
He confirmed it was unlikely that stores would open by 2014 if there was no planning application this year.
The £50m first phase of the Orchard Centre opened in 2005, including the Cornerstone Arts Centre, Cineworld cinema, and dozens of new shops.
Hundreds of new jobs could be created in the new extension, with the plan including dozens of new shops, town centre houses, an extension to Sainsbury’s and Didcot Library moving there from near the civic hall.