SUPERMARKET chain Morrisons is set to buy Minehead’s Vulcan Road car park site from West Somerset Council for nearly £8 million.
The council, which has suffered a financial crisis since the Independent group took control after last year’s elections, has chosen the firm as its preferred ‘anchor retailer’ for the site, which is close to the town’s Tesco supermarket.
Morrisons is likely to build a ‘medium’ size supermarket together with a petrol filling station, and will also provide 14 coach parking bays to support the area’s tourism transport needs.
The Bradford-based company has outmanoeuvred rivals Tesco, which was favourite to acquire the site, and also ASDA, which had been closely linked with it previously.
The council decision is seen as bowing to the influence of the Direct pressure group which supported many of the Independent candidates in last year’s elections.
Direct opposed allowing a supermarket into the town which would have competed with existing shops selling ‘white goods’ and electrical goods such as refrigerators and televisions.
Morrisons, which has 375 stores around the country serving 10 million customers a week, is a food specialist with only a limited range of other products such as music CDs, toys, and garden furniture, as well as its petrol stations.
The firm led the way with fuel price cuts which have seen the cost of a litre of petrol fall back by up to 12p in recent weeks.
District council leader Councillor Keith Ross said: “Last year’s consultation with local people and businesses prior to the meeting played an important part in reaching this decision.
“Residents wanted to see an alternative supermarket to improve their choice of where to shop, and businesses did not want to see A1 retail development on the site.
“While the bids submitted have broadened since the consultation and the economic situation has changed, we have listened to, and abided by, local people’s wishes.”
The Vulcan Road consultation undertaken at the end of last year showed more than 40 per cent of respondents wanted to see a supermarket on the site, with only slightly more than seven per cent favouring a larger Tesco.
The local business community, headed by electrical goods shopkeeper Graham Sizer, did not want to see A1 retail development on the site as they felt it would be detrimental to the town centre.
Councillor Ross said: “While Morrisons was not among the supermarkets that originally expressed an interest, it submitted a very competitive bid that matched the aspirations of the majority of local people.
“We are looking forward to working with our partners to bring positive changes for Minehead and the villages it serves.”
The option selected will provide a supermarket with a net sales area of 23,254 sq ft with an 18,000 sq ft limitation on convenience foods, and 261 customer car parking spaces.
The council will now enter a three-month exclusivity period with Morrisons during which further negotiations will take place, and anticipates that contracts will be signed in November.
Members of the council debated for 90 minutes last night before reaching their decision, which was approved with only one abstention.
The prospect of another petrol station in Minehead was generally welcomed as the town and neighbouring villages were rural and many people depended on their cars for transport.
There was broad agreement the petrol station would bring more competitive prices and that in the event of another strike or fuel shortage, the supply to residents would be more secure.
Morrisons proposes to build the supermarket so it is oriented toward the town centre to encourage inward trade to the town.
Councillors expressed a wish to see footpaths linking with the other elements on the industrial site and the town, so all businesses could have the opportunity to benefit through better access.