Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Supermarket Planning Decision (or rather the lack of one)

I said I would blog the reasons for my vote yesterday, so here goes.

The officer recommendation for today’s meeting was to approve the Tesco scheme and refuse the Sainsbury’s one.  This was because of a retail assessment (which Councils are required to do for out-of-town supermarket applications to ensure the impact on Town Centres into account).  That assessment basically said that because Whittlesey Town Centre would be severely affected by two out of town supermarkets and Tesco already have an approval for a store in Station Road, the committee was obliged to approve the Tesco site on Eastrea Road. Both Sainsbury and Co-op argued against the legality of this idea.

I have strong doubts about whether a Tesco Superstore is viable on Station Road in the event of any of the two sites along Eastrea Road being developed – and this was at the crux of the case I put forward tor today.  I hope those that were there will confirm I was quite robust about this issue (and others); asking questions, challenging developers and officers and trying to ensure the right decision was made both in planning terms and in the interests of Whittlesey residents.

There were a couple of issues where, once a debate happened, I made my position clear.  I said I found it difficult to give weight to some Draft plans that Fenland have produced but which are not yet approved – I believe that they are still in a position where they can be amended to react to any decisions such as  the approval of a supermarket and/or country park, and also that I would not support an application that did not include an element of funding to mitigate the impact of supermarkets on Whittlesey Town Centre.

However, the crux of my argument was always that I questioned the premise of the officer recommendation that Tescos was the only option.  As a result of this, where it came to a point that we were approaching a decision, a suggestion was made that we might want to examine this argument more deeply.

As I have said elsewhere, Planning is an evidence based process – and that means any committee decision has to be defendable at either planning appeal or in court, whilst I believe my argument to be right, based on strong knowledge of the situation on the ground, there was no evidence to support it.  I therefore proposed that we defer a decision in order that this study be conducted, that proposal was approved by a majority.
Whilst I accept that some residents would have preferred a decision today, this is something that effects Whittlesey forever –any impact on Whittlesey Town Centre is there forever; it has to be right for Whittlesey, but defendable.  There is an argument that the need for this could have been predicted and the work done before yesterday – but we were not in that position.  It comes about because members, including myself, were not happy with what was being recommended to us, but recognised that in order for our case to be robust and defendable an evidence base is needed.

I want to follow this a bit deeper.  If the planning committee’s decision is not robust and based on evidence then that increases the likelihood of either an appeal to the planning inspector or a court case (or both).  Potentially the timescale for this to be all take place will be longer than the time it will take to get this survey don and make a more robust decision.  It could also lead to Council Tax payers money being spent unnecessarily on expensive legal fees. Actually, my suspicion is that  any final decision is likely to be made in the courts, but if that happens we can be more certain that the decision made by the committee is robust and defendable – it increases the likelihood of a strong, well informed local decision winning the day.

I think there are issues for everyone involved in this to reflect on today – and things may well change more substantially before the next committee.  In particular, I would suggest that Tesco’s stance did nothing to endear them to Whittlesey people.  They said they had a long term commitment to Whittlesey, but offered nothing to Whittlesey in return, in short they tried to force the issue that there was only one choice, irrespective of the fact that Whittlesey loses out on a vital piece of infrastructure as a result.  Both Tesco and Sainsbury have all to play for and I will keep an open mind – as I am required to do.  Unfortunately, it also means we will be sat around a table again in a few months’ time.  Whilst I would have preferred that not to be the case, given the debate on the day, I believe a deferral was absolutely the right decision.


  1. I agree that a super store in Station Road is a poor decision, and that because it exists should not be the ultimate decision. If that is what we end up with - Tesco should not expect a profitable enterprise.

  2. I agree with everything you have said Martin, and with the comment above. You have my utmost respect in making a stand at the meeting. My question now is who do we write to if we wish to express our opinions in favour of one and against the other? If tesco think they have 'got us over a barrel' they can think again! This is the town's second and final chance to get the supermarket they want in the place they want and not the one being thrust at us by way of threatening to build regardless. Thank you for all your effort so far.

  3. Thanks for these comments. It is interesting the contrasting feedback I have had in different areas - including some a bit rude - so it is nice to get something positive. The decision to propose a deferral was not easy - but it was right to do.

  4. yes, a deferral most certainly sounds the right decision. To be frank, I am not really in favour of a new supermarket in the Town full stop. Most people only want another because the COOP is expensive. If it wasnt, they would most likely be very happy. However, if we are to get another supermarket, whoever it may be, it needs to be one that enhances the town. I, like many others are at a loss to understand how Tesco's were ever given permission for Station Road in the first place. It just does not seem right and I can only see problems with infrastructure if that goes ahead. And then we will have people moaning. Having said that, there do seem to have been a few strange planning decisions of late. (Not least the housing right alongside St Mary's Church, but that is another story.) Time to reflect seems the right thing to do. This is important. If a new supermarket is required then lets consider WHERE it will be built before we decide WHO. Thank you for taking this seriously.

  5. Mr Curtis does not seen to grasp the concept that Tesco would have to agree to surrender the planning permission on Station Road, to be given approval on the Eastrea site. Mr Curtis is showing a clear bias in favour of Sainsbury's, and costing every Whittlesey resident on a daily basis paying competitive prices and poor choices at the Co Op, which is taking full advantage of it's monopoly position, while the committee provaricates a never ending decision process that is costing jobs an rates revenue to the community .

  6. Firstly, thank you for the challenge - I genuinely welcome people challenging my decisions. One thing I know is that no Councillor worth his salt keeps everyone happy. It might be an aspiration - but it is one that will never be achieved.

    I went into the meeting absolutely aware of what Tesco had said in respect of this. But also that Both Co-op and Sainsbury had contended that the concept of surrendering a permission on a separate site in exchange for an approval at another is not legal. That is one of the reasons for the recommendation I put to committee. Certainly, using a permission on one site to invalidate a permission on another is something I have never seen nor heard of before - and I have been involved in planning a long time.

    Secondly - the recommendation in front of committee was in favour of Tesco. I would strongly, strongly argue that a legitmate part of my role as a committee member was to challenge that recommendation to confirm or otherwise that it was the right recommendation both legally and in the long term interests of Whittlesey - so it was my duty to provide robust challenge - if the recommendations change next time - ad have such a controversial nature I will provide similar challenge inj order to make up my mind. But I want to make the point that I was challenging in one way or another to many people at that committee - including making sure Co-op were aware that the one of the reasons that Whittlesey residents are clamouring for an alternative was because they feel Co-op is overpriced.

    IMHO A bad decision on Wednesday would have increased the likelihood of a court case and therefore would have increased the time that residents have got to put up with the situation with Co-op. I hope that a deferment and a few months wait will lead to more solid evidence, a more solid decision and a quicker resolution. That said - knowing how supermarkets are with planning - I do suspect we are headed to court anyway. But a more robust, evidence based decision at planning is more likely to be upheld at court - something else that legitimises my recommendation.

  7. Alison - sorry I just realised I have not answered your question. You can email and make your views known.

  8. Mr Curtis, I support both applications as I believe Whittlesey desperatley needs another foodstore and we absolutley need more competitive fuel prices which will come naturally when the successful retailer is appointed.
    I don't have any preference to the tesco or the Sainburys applications as they are next door to each other and will more-or-less offer the same retail products. Granted the Sainsburys application is to include a country park but we can use this land now to walk our dogs and ride our bikes, most people go to the Manor if they need grass to play on, however it is indeed an attractive offer.
    But you seem very much leaning towards towards the Sainburys application Mr Curtis based on your opinions rather than actual facts, you mentioned in the meeting that the people of Whittlesey would prefer a Sainburys, but I heard most people in Whittlesey would prefer a Tesco as they are cheaper, so who's right? You mentioned before about the planning officers recommendation for Tesco's was approval but said you had concerns over the retail assessment, surely this had been already discussed, two applications side by side and nobody had questioned the retail assessment before, seems rather silly to me. In the officers recommendations, they quote planning policies, for and against, surely these are fairly important facts that you need to follow to ensure a legal battle is avoided? rather than questioning the retail assessment that should have been sorted out months ago when the Tesco application was first submitted.
    Can you see it going in front of the committee again? can this decision be objected to through the courts if the retailers are unhappy with the outcome?

  9. Firstly, the purpose of a deferral is to gather more evidence and then bring it to committee again. It is used on an irregular basis in planning - I can think of 3 or 4 times when we have done this at Fenland planning. I have asked for the next meeting where we discuss these to be in Whittlesey. I don't know if that will happen yet, but I have asked. The courts are, effectively, the ultimate planning authority, so yes this could end up in court - in my view that is the likely outcome - one of the reasons why we need to make sure the local decision is the right one, but also a robust one.

    The balance of what I have heard has been in favour of Sainsbury - I used FaceBook, Twitter and my blog to glean information and of course, people have told me their views face-to-face. I am hoping to build on that over the next couple of months.

    The whole crux of what I said on Wednesday was that I did not believe the officer's reason for supporting Tesco was valid - and both Co-op and Sainsbury made the case that they thought it was legally dubious. In that respect, I spent a great deal of effort on Wednesday challenging it, that is part of my role on committee.

    There are genuine reasons to support both Sainsbury and/or Tesco - and I hope next time we are able to have a debate that looks at the pros and cons of the two sites on Eastrea Road - based on location, design, size, local opinion and, of course, the benefits and need for the country park. I can see the pros and cons for both in that respect - and I will keep an open mind.

  10. Mr curtis these planning applications have now been running for four years plus , it is perfectly normal for fenland to require that the planning on station rd is surendered by the site owner NOT Tesco. Its simply ensures that land returns to industrial use, and that two super markets are not built to the detriment of the shops in the town centre
    I cant understand why you do not grasp such a simple concept!

  11. Let's leave it with this. If this concept is so simple, please point me to an example where planning permission has been "surrendered" on a site as a result of a decision taken on a completely separate one?

    Can you point me to any area of planning policy that gives weight to the concept that "surrendering" planning permissions can be done?

    From what I can see, this is totally unprecented. Therefore very likely to legal challenge. I would also argue that if a permission were given on any site on Eastrea Road, the site on Station Road would immediately become financially unviable - and the deferment is to allow work to be done to confirm or deny that.

    1. MR Curtis you obviously do not know what goes on ,on your own door step. I seem to remember last year that Tesco were given a planning permission on the former stadium site in Cromwell rd, wisbech, and as part of that permission they had to knock down their existing food store.The only difference in whittlesey is that Tesco have not yet built their station rd food store. Therefore this should accord with planning policy that gives weight to the concept that "surrendering planning permissions"can be done.The decision was not challenged therefore why should it be in whittlesey.

  12. Mr Curtiss please note that the planning permission on station rd is granted to the site , and therefore must as a matter of cause be recinded to allow for commercial development to resume its normal path ,and remove the posibility of two large super markets being granted aproval and doing serious damamage the the local town centre shops. this is not something Tesco has any control over its would be a planning condition imposed apon it by officers.

  13. It is a simple concept the planning permission on station road is not being transfered , a new permission would be granted at another location as a safegard the offices would require that a 106 would be signed by the site owner to protect the position all.

  14. this will be with you early next week . and more than one example

  15. The top comment is not true. Two different planning permissions can exist on the same site. So in order to do a different form of development it would just need a new planning permission, no need to rescind the previous one.

    Wisbech is a totally different scenario, not least because Tesco are in complete control of the site they are giving up and htere is no competing alternative. Once Tesco have opened the new store, there is absolutely no way they would allow a competing supermarket on the existing site - they will make sure it goes to a different use, otherwise they would be shooting themselves in the foot.

  16. Thank you for replying Martin. I did write to planning, prior to the meeting on the 9th. Will my emails be carried forward to the next meeting or would it be prudent to write again? Also, as you have mentioned the Co-op, I have been meaning to write to them myself regarding the state of their carpark and the lack of drainage which regularly leads to the centre of the carpark and the edge that borders on to Syers Lane being flooded. I know we have had a lot of rain recently but this seems to be a regular problem, especially the spaces near Syers Lane. And the water can sit there for days on end. I am amazed that the Co-op have left it as it is. How can they sit at the planning meetings, I assume objecting to the proposed supermarkets, when they provide such poor facilities? There are also no parent and baby spaces. I have lost count of the times I have struggled to park in Whittlesey because there are no free spaces wide enough for me to get the car seat in/out of the car. I have digressed slightly! My question at the moment is, can you bring up the subject of their carpark with them at some point? I suppose the planning meetings are not the correct forum though but could it be addressed at some other time? Thanks.

  17. I seem to have a problem with some comments not appearing on my blog, despite having published them. Apologies for this it is not some form of censorship. I rarely refuse to publish and only do so if there are potential legal issues or if they are abusive - in fact the reason I put comment moderation on was because of that.

    It is possible it is a browser problem and that you can see all of the comments.

    Anyway, I have had some challenge in two comments I have approved but can't see about Job Creation in Whittlesey (they show as published in the control panel for my blog!!)

    Job creation is, of course, a really important point. Our young people in the Town are finding it increasingly difficult to find work, from what I can see Co-op seem to have stopped employing young people (just to make it plain - I have no problem with the staff they do have!!)and access to Peterborough makes it difficult - as does the National economic situation and the sooner we get that sorted this sorted the better it will be for that. However, I repeat that it is also important that we get this right for the long term too - because ensuring we have opportunities in the long term is important, and it is also true that we don't just want to create jobs in a supermarket at the expense of jobs elsewhere in Town.

    I would also repeat the point I made earlier, that if the deferred decision makes the final outcome more robust, it might actually speed things up because I am still of the opinion that whatever decision is made locally the final decision is likely to be made by the courts.

    Next week I hope to get this issue with my blog sorted!!

  18. Issue sorted. Not least because it was me being an eejut rater than the blog software letting me down!

  19. Mr. Curtis - as a disabled pensioner living down station road, I would offer the following, Station Road was not built for heavy traffic. My lights already go on and off when H.G.Vs trundle past, whoever gave permission for a supermarket down Station Road obviously doesnt know the area. I have today attempted to get into whittlesey town centre today (Monday). I have had to cross Station Road 4 times because of bins left on pavements and cars parked on pavements. My trip unto Whittlesey took me 45 mins as I had to wait for sufficient gaps in the traffic. Tesco - cheap - dont make me laugh - Morrisons is the cheapest supermarket in this area. It also has the freshest produce. When Tesco built at Hampton thy promised fre buses to the folks of Yaxley nd Farcet - they aupplied these - for months only!!

  20. James Hayes, Eastrea29 May 2012 at 12:05

    I am not completely clear Mr Curtis how you would go about personally granting one company planning permission over another? What objective rules would you apply? Personally I prefer both Asda and Morrison's to both Tesco and Sainsbury. But that is a subjective view. They hit the mark for me on price and quality in particular. The bottom line is the residents of Whittlesey need another store that will bring both competition and jobs into the local area. Where will local job creation come from otherwise? Once you have resolved this issue perhaps you could turn your attention to the local bus services. It seems to me quite ridiculous that you can't get in and out of Paterborough after approximately 6.30pm at night. A fare structure which also charges me the same for a Weekly Bus Ticket to travel one stop from Eastrea to Victory Avenue as a passenger does who gets on the bus in March is in my view flawed. I pay £40.00 a month extra to travel one stop! Anyhow, I will not continue on the theme of the buses here.

  21. I personally cannot grant anyone planning permission. At the meeting I put a proposition forward to defer (delay) the decision - a proposition that was supported by the majority of the committee.

    It is also true that the Tesco vs Sainsbury debate is not a planning issue - albeit location, the Country Park, highways and access as well as the impact on the Town Centre are all issues. So we cannot make a decision just because one is Sainsbury and the other is Tesco, but we can make a decision because the application for one site is better than another.

    The point about buses is ell made. I am absolutely gutted by the poor service Stagecoach provide, but it is a commercial service so there is little we can do. However, as our Cambridge Future Transport project moves forwards, I hope we can look for options that deal with this. I am not a fan of the Stagecoach monopoly - but dealing with that can only be dealt with Nationally because similar monopolies exist right across the country.

  22. I don't think we need any supermarket. Whether it is Tesco or Sainsburys, it is bound to kill the town centre. Initiatives by Sainsburys to offer bus services will be pointless; if you can buy everything you need from a supermarket - a point which they like to advertise - people will have no need to travel into the town centre. It would be devastating to see Whittlesey's thriving town centre ruined.

    And why does it seem to be a foregone conclusion that at least one Eastrea Road application must be granted? I personally think that neither is appropriate for the site. At least with the Station Road site, the cold, soulless steel shed that will be built will match the industrial site around it. All supermarkets look identical and horrible. I'm sure that Tescos or Sainsburys could afford to build a supermarket that complements Whittlesey's character with the millions they will be making off of us.

    At the end of the day, they just want to extend their monopoly and make more money. Whittlesey is another mark on the map that has yet to be cheapened by a large retail development. The country park - which I feel will encroach awfully towards Eastrea - is yet another attempt to 'bribe' us into supporting one side. Yes, Sainsbury's ideas show more care and consideration to Whittlesey, especially compared to Tesco who have offered nothing. But they are just a front. Neither supermarket needs Whittlesey. With moeny as motive, I'm sure that they want us more than we want them!

    Sorry that all sounds very negative. On a more positive note, well done on the deferal - definately the right thing to do with such an important issue.