The Shropshire Star reports today that Highways England has placed a three-month hold on plans for a store and petrol station at Rocks Green.
The big surprise is not that Highways England has taken such an uncompromising stance. It’s that its action has come nearly a year after the application was submitted. I would have thought that they would have been consulted at the outset given that the planned retail development is adjacent to the A49.
The request to consult Highways England came from Shropshire Council’s highways team on 17 November this year.
The response from Patrick Thomas, the West Midlands assets manager for the roads agency noted that eleven months had passed since the application had been submitted. He was obviously wondering why he had not been consulted earlier.
Mr Thomas said the assessments of the impact on extra traffic on the A49 junction were inadequate. He said projections should be calculated up to 2026, not 2021 as in the application. He complained they had not taken into account the impact on traffic flow of the lights controlled pedestrian crossing south of the Rocks Green roundabout.
The developer’s transport assessment says that has been no commitment to significant development near the store site. Highways England wants confirmation from Shropshire Council of this. The agency may have spotted that SAMDev commits the council to approving 200 homes opposite Rocks Green before 2026.
Highways England also wants a firm assurance that the A49 will continue to operate efficiently and safely after the store, petrol station and any adjacent developments are built. And it wants to be involved in discussions about the site in the future.
Highways England has recommended that Shropshire Council does not make a decision on the application for three months to give the applicant time to answer its questions. This is not a recommendation the council can ignore without risking a legal challenge from the developer.
This delay is essential but it is not helpful. We have a number of empty shops in the town. Why would an independent trader want to take one on while the threat of an out of town store looms over the town? What independent business is going to expand when footfall in the town centre could be dramatically reduced if this scheme gets approval? National and international chains will be prepared to take the financial risk. I can’t see local firms being able to do so.
This application should have been determined by 15 March 2015. It’s not Shropshire Council’s fault that the application has got bogged down (though it should have been brought in Highways England earlier). The developer has been tardy in providing accurate information on the impact of the scheme on the town centre. There is no resolution yet to objections from the Environmental Agency to the petrol tanks being located below ground.
But it is Shropshire’s responsibility to ensure planning applications make progress. The delay in bringing in Highways England has put back a decision that we all would have hoped would have been made by now.