Dolphin Square drops shops plan?

Old Dolphin Square site in Oxford Street.

Old Dolphin Square site in Oxford Street. - Credit: Archant

Long-awaited shops at Weston-super-Mare’s Dolphin Square now look unlikely to ever be built as developer McLaren Life is in the final stages of negotiating a deal to surrender the retail part of the site for housing.

Old Dolphin Square site in Oxford Street.

Old Dolphin Square site in Oxford Street. - Credit: Archant

The Mercury understands McLaren Life bosses are close to agreeing a deal to offload land earmarked for the development’s fourth phase – retail units – to the Government’s Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).

The deal is expected to be completed in the next few days and is likely to signal the end of hopes for new shopping development within the £45million Dolphin Square project.

Instead, Dolphin Square’s final phase is likely to comprise of homes, although North Somerset Council has refused to rule out using the fourth phase of the site for a ‘mix’ of purposes.

The news comes in the week that work on the leisure phase of the development took a significant step forward, with steel frameworks for the restaurants, cinema and indoor climbing centre beginning to emerge from the ground.

The council gave McLaren Life planning permission for the site back in 2011, but the project has been marred by delays from the outset, initially due to the recession and a failure to convince any major retailers to sign up to the scheme.

This led McLaren Life to split the leisure and retail offerings – which were meant to be built simultaneously – into two separate phases, and construction work on the leisure phase only began in November.

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McLaren Life had repeatedly stated it remained confident retailers would show interest once the leisure phase was open, insisting it would provide fresh opportunities for people to shop in Weston, as opposed to travelling to central Bristol or Cribbs Causeway.

The developer said in its original planning application: “It (Dolphin Square) is a redevelopment opportunity not to be missed. There is no doubt that Weston needs new lifestyle opportunities to support its growing population without the need to travel to Cribbs Causeway and beyond.

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“People living in Weston will have modern, exciting and much-needed retail and leisure facilities in the town centre. Instead of driving up and down a packed M5, they can enjoy what Weston has to offer – great shopping, great food and great fun.”

When asked by the Mercury about the details of its talks with the HCA, McLaren Life simply said it was in discussion with a number of potential occupiers and would release more information once arrangements had been made.

This was echoed by the HCA, which confirmed discussions were taking place, but said any proposal could still work alongside a retail offering.

A HCA spokesman said: “We are still in discussions with the council as to the level of residential development at Dolphin Square, but whatever is developed will complement the high-quality retail space also planned as part of the scheme.”

However, the potential deal has been met with anger by one North Somerset councillor, who said the changes to the plans – which will have to go back to the council to secure fresh planning approval – offer ‘nothing’ for the town.

Cllr Richard Nightingale, whose Central ward includes Dolphin Square, said: “Weston has already suffered delays and postponements over this privately-operated project and enough is enough.

“Although possibly more profitable for the developers, a residential development offers nothing for residents or tourists, nor does it create more jobs.

“I have every confidence in Weston and I know when these phases are finished and the council’s town centre regeneration programme reaches its peak, we will be a sought-after town for retail businesses. That is why I cannot and will not support a fully residential option on such a prime site.

“We must, at the very least, see retail on the lower floors.”

The council stressed the demand for shops would be boosted by the additional housing and added it had responded ‘supportively’ to McLaren Life’s actions.

A council spokesman said: “The uses of the site are yet to be determined and could be mixed use, rather than solely housing.

“The council was recently made aware of this (McLaren Life’s intentions) and has responded supportively.

“Attracting more people to live in the town centre in good-quality housing is central to the council’s approach to the regeneration of the town centre.

“More people living in the centre and visiting will boost the demand for shops and services which we anticipate will, in turn, result in a good-quality retail offer.”

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