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New £20million retail development to create “hundreds of jobs” for north town

A north town is in line for a jobs bonanza after plans for a £20million retail development were unveiled.

A Glasgow-based firm has tabled proposals for two new units covering 38,500sq ft at a vacant plot of ground in Thurso.

The site was previously owned by supermarket giant Tesco – which was accused of “banking” land without any intention of building on it.

But it was snapped-up by London & Scottish Investments (LSI) after the retailer decided not to proceed with plans to build a store.

It is understood that one of the clients being consulted as part of the scheme to develop the ground at the town’s Ormlie Road is a supermarket.

LSI also wants to provide enough land to improve parking at the adjacent Thurso Railway Station.

The application represents the first phase of development of a larger site, with the remaining ground being considered as the site for a hotel, offices, houses and student accommodation.

Bryan Wilson, group development director at LSI, said: “The economic redevelopment of this vacant site will be fantastic news for the Thurso area as we expect hundreds of new jobs to be created as a result.

“We are now in advanced discussions with a number of food and non-food retailers to occupy this development and hope to be able to announce these in the near future.

“Subject to receiving all necessary approvals, construction work would start on site immediately.”

In February last year, Tesco was accused by local councillors of buying up the land at the site with no intention of building there.

The company won planning consent to develop a 25,000sq ft store and petrol station in August 2009 and announced an opening date of spring 2011.

The firm applied to extend the planning deadline by three years but councillors argued the application should be backdated if the retailer was serious about building there.

Tesco said at the time it would only ever buy land if it had a “genuine intention to develop a store”.

Thurso councillor Roger Saxon welcomed the LGI announcement yesterday.

He said: “I have always said we wanted to free that site for some sort of economic use.

“My preference would be for something like a mini-shopping mall, and housing would be ideal if a private developer can find a market for it.

“Hundreds of jobs will be created but the worry is that this simply displaces jobs and affects family businesses, particularly if owners are planning to retire and there is no one to take it on.

“We have seen that with the big Tesco in Wick and the mini-shopping mall to the south of the town.”

Trudy Morris, chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said: “We had early discussions with the developer back in the autumn so are pleased to see plans now being submitted to develop the old Mart site. It has been an empty site and an eyesore for too long.

“We had indicated in our discussions with them that we wished to see a mixture of units on the site which would create jobs, so it is good to see they expect to create hundreds of new jobs for the area and are zoning some of the land, in particular including land for parking at Thurso Rail Station.

“We are also hopeful local firms can get involved in any work to develop the site.

“Unlike Tesco, who sat on the site for several years, London & Scottish Investments have moved quickly and we look forward to seeing this gain momentum in 2016.”

Original article: Press and Journal - 19 December 2015 by Jamie McKenzie