FEARS have been raised that a historic town could become a “drinker’s refuge” after plans for a pub chain to open were discussed.

Community leaders in Holywell have said the loss of more retail units could “destroy” the town centre after they opposed a planning application for J. D.

Wetherspoon to move to the former Woolworths store on the High Street.

Councillors now fear Flintshire Council’s planning committee, which will have the final say on the application, will not be able to oppose the application as the former Woolworths store has been empty for more than a year.

It is feared the town, which already has 29 food and drink outlets, is being destroyed by the loss of retail units and local traders will be undercut.

Cllr Peter York said: “What do we want for this town? Do we want it to be a drinker’s refuge. I am root and branch opposed to this application.”

Town manager Medwyn Roberts called for the county council to put its foot down over the issue of change of use applications for vacant units.

He said: “The regulations do not say that they must grant change of use. They are destroying the town by destroying the retail trade. Sooner or later there will not be any retail outlets left in the town. Enough is enough.

“There was spin off business from Woolworths. This won’t have any benefit for other businesses.”

Holywell’s Woolworths became the first of the Flintshire stores to close its doors in December 2008 after the company went into administration.

Town mayor Peter Curtis said: “I am not against J. D. Wetherspoon. It is the loss of the retail area that I am opposed to. In the end retail outlets will be in the minority. We have no gripe against Wetherspoon.”

Cllr Barry Scragg said the loss of more retail units in the town would kill off the vision of Holywell as a tourist town.

He said: “We must have a town we can build up for the future.”

But Cllr Richard Spain said he was opposed to the application but that it could bring visitors into the town. During the meeting councillors stressed they had no issue with J. D. Wetherspoon but with the loss of the retail unit.

Eddie Gershon, a spokesman for J. D. Wetherspoon, said: “We are at a very early stage but our intentions are to open on the site. People have their views and that is understandable. We are keen to develop the site that would otherwise be empty and we are keen to invest more than £1million and create 40 jobs.”