Cranbrook could hit trade in Honiton 'like a meteorite'

A STOCKBROKER has warned business leaders in Honiton that the development of Cranbrook could hit trade like a meteorite .

A STOCKBROKER has warned business leaders in Honiton that the development of Cranbrook could hit trade "like a meteorite".

Dutchman Pieter Burger told the 70th annual meeting of Honiton and District Chamber of Commerce and Industry that the town had been "fighting the wrong crocodile".

"We have all been so caught up fighting Tesco that we haven't thought about Cranbrook," he said.

"It's going to have 3,000 homes, a school, a cinema and a brand new shopping centre - and it's all going to be just eight miles away; a journey of six or seven minutes.

"I've been told it is going to be modelled on Honiton, but I don't see how that can be true - it will be all shiny and new.

"While you were fighting Tesco's plan for a new Extra store, you ignored a bright star in the sky that got bigger and bigger. That star is Cranbrook and it's a meteorite that is going to strike our community."

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Mr Burger, who has worked in Honiton since 2003, said doing business in the town is "an absolute nightmare", because of high business rates and red tape.

He feared incentives could attract big names to Cranbrook, leaving Honiton town centre with a dwindling footfall at a time when shop rents and rates are among the highest in Devon.

Rumours that a park and ride could be developed at Heathpark Industrial Estate to ease pollution levels in Honiton could make matters worse, said Mr Burger. "People from Dunkeswell will have to drive through the town to get to the park and ride - and I think they will just carry on driving, and shop in Cranbrook," he said.

Use of Lace Walk car park had fallen since Marks and Spencer pulled out of Honiton, the meeting, held at St Rita's Conference Centre, heard.

The loss of the quality chainstore had taken away shoppers from Sidmouth and Lyme Regis, who had also supported other businesses in the town, said Mr Burger.

"Businesses must change; they can't stay the same," he told the meeting.

"You can make choices. You can retire, roll up and die or make changes; adapt and diversify.

"If you don't, you will have no footfall. You won't have any business in the town, because it will all go to Cranbrook.

"Don't fight the wrong crocodile!"

Former mayor Councillor Vernon Whitlock was at the meeting and responded by saying Honiton's quaintness and plethora of independent shops offers consumers a unique shopping experience.