After reading the committee report for the planning meeting next week I have made the decision not to take part as a voting committee member. The reason is that, whilst there were always circumstances in which I could support the Tesco application for Whittlesey, it became absolutely clear that there is no way I could support the reasons officers give for supporting Tesco, something that would be quite clear to anyone who witnessed the previous supermarket meeting. That means there is a strong element of predetermination in my thinking, which, as I have explained before, is something that is an issue as far as planning is concerned. I will however be attending and speaking at that meeting, representing the people I serve.
Whilst I respect the officers at Fenland, I have to express some surprise at the recommendation. I proposed a deferral at the last meeting in order that the viability of the Station Road site can be assessed. That assessment, carried out by Roger Tym and Partners (RTP), quite clearly in my view, shows that if any supermarket is developed along Eastrea Road, the application which has approval in Station Road would be unviable – and we have to accept that if it is unviable, it will not be built. It does say that a smaller supermarket – such as an Aldi or a Lidl might prove viable – but that would require new planning applications. In my Supermarket survey (the results of which which will be published tomorrow), in response to the question “If there was a Supermarket on Station Road and a supermarket on Eastrea Road, which would you use?” only 5% of respondents said they would use Station Road – many, many people cited the railway crossing as the reason; Whittlesey people know what I know, Station Road is not sufficiently accessible to make it able to compete with an Eastrea Road site. So, whilst it would not have surprised me to see the Tesco store recommended for approval by officers, given the contents of the Roger Tym report, my expectation was that this would be based on the location of the proposed Tesco store – which would have been a genuine point for debate. As far as I can see, the debate over Station Road ended with the publication of the Roger Tym report; next week should have been a genuine discussion about the comparative merits of the two Eastrea Road sites.
I want to stress very, very strongly that this was my decision, made after reading the officer report for next week and reflecting on how that sits alongside my clear views about Station Road and having taken advice from Officers. Part of the reasoning is that the rules around predetermination changed somewhat in the Localism Act and there is very little case law around the recent changes; developers will be looking to test exactly what the new rules around predetermination mean. Given that it has been clear to me for some time that the supermarket battle in Whittlesey is going to court – I want the debate to be about supermarkets, not about whether I was predetermined or not.
I repeat that I will be speaking at the planning committee as a ward member and hope to get the results of my survey published in the next 24 hours. Not being a voting member of the committee also allows me more freedom to speak my mind. So in the days running up to the planning committee I will be publishing a few thoughts.