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Anchor stores snubbed Didcot

The developer behind the second phase of Didcot’s Orchard Centre has admitted to failing to attract a big-name anchor store to the town.

Hammerson unveiled its plans for the extension of the shopping centre in November last year, with an M&S Simply Food store headlining the development.

John Lewis and Debenhams had been rumoured as targets but Hammerson failed to secure a deal and has admitted to reverting to plan B.

Town council leader Eleanor Hards admitted a John Lewis would have been “wonderful” for Didcot but always thought the deal was “ambitious”.

Didcot Ladygrove district councillor Neville Harris said it was a clear indication that the private sector is “shunning the political view on need”.

He added: “Perhaps retailers know the market place best.”

The plans are also smaller than first discussed in 2011 with the absence of a housing development on neighbouring Rich’s Sidings.

Hammerson spokesman Matthew Evans said: “The aspiration was to have a department store and Hammerson tried its hardest but unfortunately were not successful in the end.

“We are confident that the M&S Simply Food will be of real benefit to Didcot shoppers. It will help draw out high street names for the rest of it.”

Mr Evans continued: “It is a smaller set of plans than we initially outlined back in 2011 and that is given the changing retail environment, economic challenges and a need to deliver a viable set of plans.

“Previously it was a far bigger set of plans that included housing as well.

“It is just the retail extension and the idea is to deliver a viable retail scheme and one we can deliver straight away.”

A planning application for the scheme is to be submitted to South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) this month.

The development will also include 24 new shops, six new restaurants and cafés, a gym, and 105 new parking spaces.

It will then be left to the district council to find a new developer and acquire Rich’s Sidings.

SODC leader John Cotton said: “It is very early days.

“Plan A had been the development would be done as a whole but now we have to do it in sections.

“The focus is on getting Hammerson’s development through and the residential development is following on at some point in the future.”

However, Cllr Harris says Didcot could be waiting a long time for further development beyond retail.

He added: “We have waited 30 years for phase three of Didcot’s Northern Perimeter Road to be completed and the town’s railway transport infrastructure is little different to when it was built in 1839.

“So much for phasing and delivery of promises.”

The Oxfordshire Guardian previously reported the frustrations of business owners on Rich’s Sidings who are waiting for concrete news about the development.

Cllr Hards said it might not be easy for the district council to acquire the land for housing.

She added: “It may not be straight forward if they do not wish to part with the land.

“We could be talking about quite a long time.”

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