For those that attended yesterday, I hope you enjoyed what I thought was a great piece of democracy. The planning committee did themselves proud, they were challenging of all parties, enquiring of officers and worked hard to find the right way forwards. For them to stay that focused for seven hours was an achievement in itself, the audience too were great and for those that stayed until the end – great effort.
The result was, in some ways, a ratification of the decision of 29th August – that is to say, they approved the Sainsbury store with country park, to approve the business park and to refuse the Tesco on Eastrea Road. However, unlike 29th August, some essential but frustrating work was done at the end of the meeting to make sure the decision was robust, making the final decision stronger and eliminating the need for a follow-up meeting.
I thought I would do a bit of a “Frequently Asked Questions” to try and provide clarty.
1. Will any more decisions be made on this locally? The answer to that is no. One of the reasons the end of the meeting dragged on a bit last night was that officers were rigorous and worked with councillors to get strong decisions confirmed and ratified and to agree the conditions for the application so they can send them off to the next stage ASAP.
2. So what is the next stage? Because the decision is technically a departure from policy, it will have to go to the Secretary of State for Local Government for ratification. In reality it goes to an organisation called the National Planning Casework Unit. At this stage, Harrier (the developers who are behind the Tesco application) are likely to make a case to have the decision called-in. As soon as I have a reference for this case I will publish the details so those that want to can make their own representation.
3. Can Tesco appeal the decisions? If the NPCU agree the decision then Harrier could, technically, appeal the decision to refuse the store along Eastrea Road – but there is no right of appeal for decisions that were approved, so from what I can see they cannot put an appeal to the planning inspectorate against Sainsbury and the country park approvals. Personally, I think an appeal is unlikely because the evidence against two approved Supermarkets on Eastrea Road is strong.
4. So what about the Tesco store that is approved on Station Road? This is the complex bit. Technically there is still an approval on Station Road for a supermarket – which Tesco are contracted to occupy. However, the committee were also aware of the report by Roger Tym and Partners (RTP) which said that any supermarket approval on Eastrea Road would make the Station Road site unviable. Harrier submitted a legal statement to the committee yesterday, and whilst it challenged certain aspects of the RTP report, the most telling aspect of it, to me, was that it did not once challenge the basic premise about the unviability of the Station Road store. There can only be one conclusion from that – the Station Road site is not viable if Sainsbury deliver. So now Tesco have a choice – to carry on with an agreement that means a 25 year commitment to an unviable store, or find a way out of the agreement (which is always an option with any contract). If they are going to build, they better get on with it because the planning permission runs out soon.
5. When will we get our supermarket and country park? This is the ten million dollar question, and one I can’t answer. There is still the possibility/likelihood of a legal challenge to the decision and that could take a long, long time if it happens. My personal plea to Tesco would be to recognise where there reputation is at the moment.