MOST residents of Henley would like a Marks & Spencer store in the town despite the company’s favoured site being rejected in the draft neighbourhood plan.
A survey carried out by a developer found that 80 per cent of respondents backed plans for a Simply Food store on land next to Tesco, off Reading Road.
The telephone survey of more than 400 residents was carried out by Barwood Developments in response to the draft plan, which earmarked the site for homes rather than a retail development. The site, which is owned by the town council, is one of nine identified as suitable for up to 485 new homes to be built by 2027.
The survey showed that just 11 per cent of respondents were opposed to Barwood’s plans and that 62 per cent currently shop for food and drink at M&S stores elsewhere, including Reading, Marlow, High Wycombe and Slough.
Christian Matthews, development director at Barwood, said: “We are hopeful that the clear public support for the M&S store — and the investment that we are able to make in the site with the resultant jobs — means that our proposed development is an attractive proposition for Henley Town Council as it looks to sell the site.”
Chris Smith, Simply Food store acquisition manager, said: “Henley is a town where we’ve wanted to open for some time and we believe we can bring a successful store selling M&S exceptional quality and innovative food products to the Reading Road site.”
The proposed development, which was exclusively revealed by the Henley Standard in March, would also include 28 new flats above the store with 60 parking spaces for shoppers and 35 for residents.
The site is currently home to the former Exclusively Ladies gym and several other businesses. The council believes it could make £4 million by selling it. A second offer to develop the land has been made by Inland Homes, which owns the neighbouring site of the former Jet garage and former National Tyres and Autocare centre.
Inland wants to 50 to 60 homes here and the 1.34-acre site was among the nine earmarked for housing in the neighbhourhood plan.
The draft plan designated the council’s site for 30 homes on the recommendation of its housing working group.
It retail group recommended that retail development should be confined to the town centre and is understood to prefer an M&S store at a mixed development at the former Empstead Works industrial estate, off Greys Road, now Henley Enterprise Park. This site is also on the list of nine and earmarked for 53 homes.
Dieter Hinke, chairman of the council’s neighbourhood plan governance committee, said the working groups would reconvene next month in order to analyse the results of a seven-week public consultation on the draft plan.
He said: “I’m sure that the results of Barwood’s survey will be included in the discussions. It will be up to members of the working groups to take that on board and come to a conclusion.
“There has been a lot of new information come forward in the consultation.”
Councillor Hinker says that if a “significant” degree of change to the draft plan is needed then a second, six-week public consultation will be required.
A total of 568 people returned questionnaire as part of the consultation that finished on July 4 and only 54 per cent supported the plan overall and the same percentage endorsed its approach to housing.
The issue has been complicated by The Henley College offering its campuses for development in return for being able to relocate to a single site.
The proposed Marks & Spencer store, of around 1,440 sq m, would include a café and be about a third of the size of the Tesco supermarket and half the size of the Waitrose store in the town centre.
The development would require the demolition of both the AFC Henley and Henley Hockey Club clubhouses and changing rooms, the gym, which closed in 2010, and a council depot.
The clubhouse and changing rooms would be relocated to Jubilee Park but without reducing the size of the pitches there and the council says it would pay for this with part of the income from selling the land.