PLANNING chiefs have recommended refusing both Sainsbury's and Tesco's store bids for Whitby ahead of Thursday's decisive planning meeting.
In a report to go before Scarborough Borough Council's planning and development committee, it recommends Tesco's scheme, which includes 93 affordable homes and a petrol station at High Stakesby, and Sainsbury's plans for a store at Stainsacre Lane, be turned down.
But the report recommends an extension for Whitby's Co-op store to increase sales by around a third, in Langborne Road, be given the green light.
And in a new twist to the supermarket debate, the Whitby Gazette understands SPC UK – the firm which would be demolished to make way for the proposed Sainsbury's store next to Homebase, who had initially objected to the plans – has now arrived at an understanding with the supermarket giant and has plans to relocate its business within the next six months.
It is offering each of its 25 employees relocation packages.
The report says Sainsbury's will offer each member of staff an interview against possible new opportunities and in the meantime has offered them a 12-month lease to cover the period of their relocation.
Pauline Elliott, Scarborough Borough Council's head of planning and regeneration, said: "We recognise that all three applications have aroused considerable local feeling.
"However, planning is a quasi-judicial process and in making decisions or recommendations, planners are bound to take on board only those representations that are material in planning.
"Materials issues are many, but include things such as the effect on residential amenity, traffic impact, flooding etc.
"We cannot legally take into account any polls or petitions which only state a preference or objection to one supermarket or another.
"This is because in planning law all supermarkets are equal and we would be subject to a legal challenge if we were to base a decision on a preference or rejection of any one brand.
"Therefore the polls and petitions circulating in Whitby have no relevance and councillors on the planning and development committee will be asked to cast them from their minds unless they also refer to those matters that are relevant to planning.
"The supermarket applications are clearly contentious but the council's planning and legal officers will advise and assist councillors so they make fully informed decisions on the matters, mindful that whatever the outcome, these decisions will be subject to intense scrutiny."
The news of the recommended decisions are likely to cause an equal amount of jubilation and anger. At a public meeting at Whitby Pavilion on Thursday, attended by around 200 people, Whitby Town councillor Sue Boyce revealed the results of their questionnaire on the supermarkets which weighed heavily in favour of Sainsbury's.
The town council received 1,100 valid questionnaires representing 7% of the electorate. Of those, 61% chose a Sainsbury's, 14% the Co-op and just 8% a Tesco.
The preferred location for a supermarket was Stainsacre Lane while the site at High Stakesby received just 5% of the vote.
Scarborough Borough Council's planning and development committee is due to make a final decision on the applications at 1pm this Thursday at Whitby Community College.