Fury over Featherston's empty heart

By Nathan Crombie nathan.crombie@age.co.nz

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Fears have been raised that Trust House will abandon plans to build a multi-million dollar supermarket in Featherston after "knocking a big hole" in the town's main street.

The central Featherston site of the proposed supermarket has been cleared over the past two years and extends from where Chung's Supermarket formerly stood to the corner of Johnston St.

Trust House was last month granted resource consent which is valid for five years, after resolving objections from a couple who own the neighbouring Cosy theatre and design issues.

Featherston Community Board chairman Garry Thomas said there was now "desperate frustration" in the town that Trust House had cleared the large main street site for the supermarket but had yet to confirm a construction start date.

Mr Thomas feared Trust House would abandon building the supermarket altogether and might instead remodel the much smaller existing supermarket it owned in the town.

"They came charging in here making promises and gave us a verbal contract.

Now, after knocking a big hole in the middle of town, it looks like they're going back on it," Mr Thomas said.

"It looks like a bomb site. It's hard enough to get people to invest in the town as it is and they're knocking the town down. It's not a good look at all."

Mr Thomas said the dispute involving the theatre owners had been an "unwarranted" situation that Trust House should have quickly resolved.

He also questioned why the trust was now expanding a supermarket in Masterton while leaving the Featherston site vacant.

Colin Olds, chairman of Featherston Business Association and Promotional Group, said Trust House had loyal clients and employees through their existing Four Square supermarket and "they owe it to them to deliver on their promises or at least front up and say what is likely to happen".

"If they're using competition as a reason for delay, it's quite sad. The commercial reality is that, if there is little likelihood of profit, there's no point in setting up, and they owe it to Featherston to say so and on-sell to another developer who will help spruce up our town."

Trust House chief executive Bernard Teahan said yesterday the trust still intended to build the supermarket.

A decision about construction would be made within the next four months. "We have no intention of abandoning our plans to build. I hope there will be a decision in the next 3-4 months but there's no absolutes."

Mr Teahan had earlier told the Times-Age he would be "disappointed" if construction of the planned supermarket did not start within two years.

He said the establishment of Greytown's FreshChoice supermarket, which is due to open next month, had changed the competitive landscape for Trust House and could not be ignored.

"It took two years to obtain resource consent and was a very costly process, and the South Wairarapa grocery scene has significantly changed.

"We are reassessing and discussing with Foodstuffs the timing in the future and there's no sense, at this stage, to proceed."

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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