Shropshire Council could back Rocks Green supermarket bid at October planning meeting

It looks like council planners may recommend approval of the controversial proposal build a 25,000 sq ft supermarket and a petrol station on the outskirts of Ludlow (14/05573/OUT). We won’t formally know what the planners think until early October. But on my reading of the runes from technical papers published yesterday, they may well recommend the scheme should go ahead.[1]

Shropshire Council has commissioned analysis of the supermarket proposal from Peter Brett Associates, a company that works for councils and supermarkets across the country. Drawing on that advice, the council estimates that the new store will reduce town centre trade by around 11% in 2019.[2] This, the planners say, “is less than significant”. They also say the proposed store is ideally placed to help encourage housebuilding east of the bypass.

Blackfriars Property Group, an anonymous non-trading company, is promoting the supermarket bid. It retained the planning consultancy Indigo Planning to drive the supermarket application forward. Nearly two years ago, Indigo submitted a report on the retail impact of the proposed store on Ludlow town centre. One of the curious features of Indigo’s report is a defiance that Tesco is not, in planning terms, in Ludlow town centre.

Brett’s advice rejects this posturing from Indigo and confirms Tesco is in the town centre.[3]

This is argument is vital in estimating how much trade the new store might take from the town centre. Indigo says the reduction of town centre trade will be 6.2% in 2019. Peter Brett says with Tesco included the impact will be 10.2%.

This hike in the level of impact doesn’t though make any difference to Shropshire Council’s opinion. Even if 11% of trade is taken out of the town centre, council officers say the impact the store will have on the town centre will not be significantly damaging.

Can independent traders take such a knock on their turnover? Will a loss of more than one in ten pounds be sustained? Or will it lead to independents going under in favour of chains, charity shops and coffee houses? These are questions we need urgent answers to before the committee meets.

A different view on the level of town centre impact was taken by a consultant retained by the Midshires Co-op. Last July, Richard Holmes said between 25% and 30% of day-to-day shopping would be diverted from the town centre to the new store. He also estimated the total trade diversion, including comparison goods like clothing and electrical items, will be “significantly higher” than the 10% stated by Indigo. Holmes asserted that even at 10%, the “trade diversion would be significantly adverse” on the town centre.

Shropshire Council’s planners say this location is ideal for a supermarket:

The direction of growth proposed for Ludlow in the SAMDev Plan up to 2026 is primarily to the east of the A49 by-pass, including a housing allocation of 200 dwellings to Land south of Rocks Green. It is considered the proposed store is well located against this future direction of growth, and may well have a positive impact on bringing these housing allocations forward earlier in the plan period. These factors should weigh in favour of it in the overall consideration of planning balance.

As a member of the South Planning Committee, I can’t commit myself on this application one way or the other. I hear strong support for the scheme from people who live on the east side of town and from residents who would love an Asda, especially for its clothing. Many others fear that an out of town supermarket will lead to irrevocable damage to town centre trade and the character of our town.

Officers are hoping to bring the application to the 11 October meeting of the South Planning Committee.

Previous posts on this application.

Notes

[1]. Letter from Jonathan Wadcock, Peter Brett Associates, to Edie West, Shropshire Council, 31 August 2016. Shropshire Council Planning Policy Comments, 2 September 2016.

[2]. Shropshire Council says the loss of town centre trade will be between 10.98% and 11.37%. I find it extraordinary that the council uses such precise estimates when so much of this analysis is little better than guesswork.

[3]. In technical arguments about the National Planning Policy Framework, Indigo Planning had argued that the developer need only consider the impact of the new store on the primary shopping area – Tower Street through to the Market Square along with the top of Broad Street, Mill Street and Corve Street. Peter Brett’s advice backs my interpretation of national planning rules that the impact on the entire town centre should be considered. This is defined in SAMDev and includes Tesco but not Aldi.