Co-op has confirmed it plans to take over an ‘iconic’ Cuckfield pub, going against the wishes of the community and Parish Council.
The supermarket chain is planning to open a convenience store in place of The Ship Inn, Whitemans Green.
The change would go against Cuckfield’s neighbourhood plan, which specifically seeks to protect the Whitemans Green village centre’s mix of traders, including a public house.
Chairman of Cuckfield Parish Council Nigel Page described this as ‘particularly frustrating’.
The bid is protected by Permitted Development Act 1995 which allows a business to change use without planning permission if certain conditions are met.
Councillor Page said: “The use of Permitted Development to make this change clearly goes against the wish of the community, which is why we have seen such a strong reaction to this.”
Last month residents campaigned to stop ‘The Ship from sinking’ outside their local pub.
Councillor Page continued: “In our joint letter with Mid Sussex District Council, we express our concerns about the cumulative impact of this significant change of use on long-standing local businesses like the Post Office, Esso Garage and the locally owned Wealden Store.
“We of course understand business change, but as we saw with the recent potential loss of the Post Office, these changes have to be carefully managed.”
A spokesman for Co-operative Food said the supermarket chain will have a meeting with the Parish Council soon to listen to their concerns.
But the spokesman explained: “Given that the developer has decided to convert the Ship to a convenience store, I can confirm that we, as a long established retailer in Cuckfield, have submitted proposals to open a new food store.”
Whitemans Green resident Yvonne Hickmott said: “Primarily we fear that this would put Wealdon Stores, a friendly, local village shop which has been in existence for over 100 years, out of business. It will no doubt change the complexion of the neighbourhood and damage the economy of retailers at the other end of the village.
“The Co-operative movement has turned into precisely the kind of Dollar-Rules capitalist Goliath against which it was established to protect the individual.”
Co-op would also like to install a new entrance and build a single storey extension to the rear of the building, which must be judged by the impact on the character of the conservation area, ignoring the traffic implications of impact of change of use.
Councillor Page continued: “The position with the current Co-op store is unclear, but if it is moved from its current location in the village, there is the potential for a loss of pull through trade for our High St traders, as well as the impact on losing a potential convenience store for the centre and southern end of the village.
“This would have a significant impact on our elderly population who would find it difficult especially in the winter months.”
The district council are hoping to meet with Co-op before any more decisions are made.
Councillor Page added the council has further concerns for traffic and safety.
“The proposed new signage and alterations to the outside of the building are certain to have an impact on the Conservation Area with this iconic building and prominent location and one which we will seek to ensure the street scene of the Conversation Area is maintained,” he said.
Councillor Norman Webster, cabinet member for Economic Development and Planning at MSDC, said the council is determined to make sure the voices of local people are heard.We appreciate that many local people will find this situation frustrating but our hands are tied by national planning laws,” he said.
“Strong feelings are held locally and we are doing all we can to make the Co-operative aware of them.”