ICONIC department store Hoopers has said the council plans to build a new theatre presents an ‘existential threat’ to its business and could lead to the loss of 500 jobs.

Their concern hinges on the use of their car park round the back of the store as an access route by the proposed venue, which Hoopers believes will adversely impact their customers and the wider business.

In addition, they have hit back at the council’s ‘threat’ to use a compulsory purchase order on the customer car park to achieve this access, warning it will have a ‘devastating effect’ on Hooper’s ability to function effectively.

A Hoopers spokesman said the top-end retailer has been ‘inundated’ with enquiries from customers, staff and the general public who are concerned about the theatre’s impact on the business.

They added: “Hoopers believes that if the council’s planned access route comes to fruition, it would create an existential threat to the current operation and viability of an iconic independent retail business. [It will] affect not only the store in Tunbridge Wells but the operation of its three other stores in the group that rely upon services from this store.

“The group itself provides employment for over 500 people of which 170 are based in Tunbridge Wells.

“Hoopers considers the design of the theatre should be capable of including the requisite access arrangements within the site and the existing street layout without threatening the viability of a significant local business and major retail employer.”

A spokesperson for Tunbridge Wells Borough Council said: “We very much value Hoopers as a local retailer and employer and welcome their support for the concept of a new theatre.

“Our project team is working with Hoopers to understand their concerns and we will do whatever we can to accommodate them. We believe that they, like other retailers in the town would benefit from the increased footfall that would come from offices close to their premises and the hundreds of thousands of people using the theatre.

“We will continue to talk to Hoopers in the anticipation that we can achieve a solution that is workable for us both.”