Plans to bring M&S to Ripon under threat - everything we know so far

Highly-publicised plans for an M&S at Ripon could be at risk after developers behind the plan attempted to pull-out of supplying a bus network for the area.

Wednesday, 18th September 2019, 5:38 pm
An artist's impression of what the Ripon M&S could look like.

Plans for the retail park off Ripon's Rotary Way appeared to be steaming ahead after Harrogate Borough Council approved the development in June 2017.

Key among the council's approval of the project was that the developers would contribute £475,000 for a bus network in the area, which would help ferry customers to the site.

However, the matter returned to Harrogate's planning committee this month, with applicants Commercial Projects Limited - one of the parties behind the development - applying to remove the payment from their obligations, claiming it would make the project unviable.

Representing the applicant, James Marshall told councillors the first preference was for M&S still to be the anchor tenant at the park.

"Unfortunately M&S have changed the terms of their deal due to the retailing landscape deteriorating since the original deal was first agreed, resulting in a lower end value for the scheme," he said.

“I really would like to provide the public with what it wants...however, commercially the reality of is that without the modification of the s106 (the agreement between council and the developer) this won’t happen."

Coun Stuart Martin, who represents Ripon Moorside ward, asked what would happen if M&S withdrew, given the "significant work" already taking place on the site.

"If we've got potential businesses prepared to invest...why is it so critical to do away with this 106 just because M&S are saying?" Coun Martin said.

Mr Marshall acknowledged that other businesses could be attracted instead if M&S pulled out.

"I'm sure other operators could come forward - but I haven't explored that yet on the basis I want M&S," he told councillors.

Explaining the move to councillors, he said: "M&S have changed the deal".

"In order for me to attract them to the city, it's a more expensive deal for me to do which effectively means there's less profit in the scheme."

He said a different retailer "probably wouldn't" require the same amount of capital contribution or the same amount of time rent free as M&S.

"They (other businesses) probably would give me a better deal, but that's not what I want for the city, I want the city to get its M&S back," Mr Marshall said.

However, councillors railed against ditching the promise of a bus network, saying it was a crucial part of the project initially being approved.

“Yes Ripon absolutely wants M&S to come back, but it also wants better public transport," Coun Martin said.

"Without that bus service, people living on outskirts of town are stranded...It isn't M&S at any cost."

It saw councillors vote unanimously against the proposal to remove the bus payment.

An M&S spokesperson said after the meeting that there was "no update" to provide as yet on the situation at Ripon.

Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter