Planners failed us on the Rocks Green supermarket application

The debate on the supermarket application yesterday continued for the best part of two and half hours. Councillors wanted to reject the application but they were blocked by the council’s legal team. I am raising a formal complaint about this.

I had to work through the night on Monday to analyse data that was only published last Thursday afternoon. This data was at the core of the developer’s case. It ran to 170 pages of tables and around 9,000 statistics. It was only late on Monday that I realised the significance of what the data was telling me. It shows that Ludlow town centre works as a retail destination. Except for clothing. I mean day to day clothing, not posh frocks. But the data also show that an out of town supermarket could kill our town centre.

People want more choice in shopping but we also need to understand the impact this proposal for a giant store will have on our town and the Rocks Green estate.

After a long and sometimes heated discussion, which was often about technical details of highways and retail evidence, the South Planning Committee reached a consensus on rejecting this application. If we had been allowed, the large majority, if not all of us, would have voted this proposal down. But we were blocked by the committee’s legal adviser.

There was a furious argument about this than lasted for more than fifteen minutes. At one point I described the legal block as “scandalous”. Feeling very angry, I said that planning officers had been acting on behalf of the developer not the community.

There were two legal issues. The highways team said that we could not take into account the traffic from 200 homes planned south of Rocks Green. They are wrong on that and were completely unaware of the current planning status of the LUD017 site. Planning policy officers had also said they had not taken into account much of the detailed retail analysis I referred to in my statement.

If the planning committee is to refuse this application, we must have robust evidence. The legal officer’s advice was in this respect correct. We’ll have a much greater chance of winning an appeal if we have the right data. After taking views from every member of the committee, I changed my proposal to refuse the application to “minded to reuse”. The application will come back to the committee in December or January.

We wanted this decided yesterday. We were blocked because Shropshire Council had worked with the developer at the expense of the community. The council acted to ensure that Blackfriars would have a recommendation to approve the scheme once the proposals got to planning committee. But council officers did not work with us in Ludlow on the application. That is wrong.

This is bad planning. We are not scared of development in Ludlow. We just want the right development. Not for the first time, I think the planning system has failed.

This application could have been decided yesterday but Shropshire Council’s planners backed the developers and ignored the interests of Ludlow as a whole.

When this application comes back to the South Planning Committee, I expect planning officers to be defiant and recommend that the scheme is approved. So we begin the battle again. If we reject the scheme in December, or maybe January, it will then go to appeal. That means we will not have a decision until the end of next year.

This scheme hangs over Ludlow. We have approved a second petrol station and store on Bromfield Road. But no one is going to spend £2 million on this development while the application at Rocks Green is undecided.

Shropshire Council has launched an inquiry into how planning runs in the county. I will be asking for a detailed review on why planners work for developers but do not work with communities on planning applications.

My statement to the South Planning Committee

Thank you chairman.

Ludlow has lived with this proposal for more than two years. I have spent that period talking to people all around the town and beyond, as have my fellow councillors. We talked about it on Facebook, doorsteps and in supermarket aisles. I have written extensively on this application on my blog, without taking a stance.

But now the long wait is over and we must decide.

I can tell you that the town is split in its opinions. I concur with the developer that this split is around about 50% in favour and 50% against. I don’t concur on much else.

I want to concentrate on the principle of the development.

I do not like this type of application and I don’t think the committee does. It is an outline proposal seeking permission only for the access to the site. Everything else is reserved. We are given an idea of what the scheme would look like but the developer reserves the right to change everything but the access. If this application is approved, the fully designed scheme should come back to this committee.

First, the impact on Rocks Green. This is a huge development to park immediately outside a pleasant housing estate. We have heard from highways that traffic will not be problem. I would have through having more than three hundred vehicles an hour on what is currently a quiet cul de sac is a big problem. We have heard from Mr Lawley and Councillor Parry about the dangers of traffic and air, light and noise pollution. There will also be additional pressure on the One Stop junction at the bottom of Henley Road.

The 200 houses south of Rocks Green are coming forward in the next few years. A screening opinion has been applied for (16/04409/SCO). This development should have been taken into account in the highways analysis.

Turning to jobs, we get the usual boasting about jobs that comes with any supermarket bid. It will create 210 jobs we are told. But 78 jobs will go in Ludlow’s town centre according to Indigo Planning. That’s still a net gain in jobs but 78 people will no longer be working in the town centre. That’s people who won’t pop into Vaughan’s, Swift’s, Price’s, and so on for a sausage roll or portion of pasta for lunch.

The estimate of new jobs incorporates a 30% multiplier to take account of jobs created for cleaners, maintenance, training and supply of goods from the local area. I am not convinced by this multiplier. Cleaners will be local, but maintenance and training are usually corporate functions with staff coming from outside the area. Many retail chains do not source goods locally. And Indigo doesn’t seem to have taken account of the loss of supply chain jobs if, for example, a butcher or greengrocer closes in central Ludlow. I think the loss of local jobs will be higher than Indigo is estimating.

In the retail statement of 12 May 2016, a lot of reliance is placed on a survey of people in the town centre. Indigo Planning says that survey “strongly indicates that the Tesco car park does not function as an ‘edge-of-centre’ car park by supporting the town centre.” This is flawed analysis.

Details of this survey were published only late last Thursday, which has given almost no time to study the details. We know that only 102 people were interviewed, of which at least one fifth were tourists. Less than two thirds came to Ludlow to shop.

I think we should discount this survey as no more than anecdotal evidence. It is unfortunate that the flawed survey has played a prominent part in the argument in favour of the supermarket.

There was a larger telephone survey of 1,000 people across a very wide area. Again this was published last Thursday, although it was requested by Love Ludlow at the beginning of September. The publication of 170 pages of tabular data, approximately 9,000 statistics, after people have responded to the consultation and prepared their statements for this committee is unacceptable. It is not clear to me that officers had access to this data or understood its importance when the committee report was written.

I’ll briefly tell you what the survey says in a non-technical way.

The survey shows that people who live further afield from Ludlow, shop further afield from Ludlow. The results are to some extent skewed by the inclusion of the Tenbury area in the survey. Tenbury is not in Ludlow’s hinterland. People there shop elsewhere. Ludlow people don’t often shop in Tenbury. That’s a geography that this developer doesn’t understand.

I am going to concentrate on the 214 people surveyed who live in Ludlow.

Nearly nine in ten of them visit the town centre every week.

The survey shows that 89% of Ludlow people do their main shop in the Ludlow town centre area.[1] I include Aldi in this, even though it is technically just outside the town centre. Retail leakage from our core stores is therefore very low. And this shows our town works. You can do your main shop and then top it up from the independent traders.

On Saturday, I purchased staples at Aldi. I topped up my shop with bread and meat from independent shops, vegetables from the greengrocer and dog biscuits from the market. I even sneaked in a pint of beer. The pint of beer to one side, that is probably a pretty typical linked trip.

The telephone survey shows that half of Ludlow people – indeed half of people across the study area – do linked trips. 60% of the linked trips made by Ludlow residents are for additional food. Just like me last Saturday. But banks, cafes and hairdressers also benefit. I could do with a linked trip to the hairdresser.

I am not so worried about overtrading. What to a retail analyst is overtrading is a store making a good profit. I am not worried about Tesco or Aldi losing trade. I am worried about the loss of linked trips.

When Ludlow people are asked why they do their main shop in a supermarket, two-thirds say it is cheap and convenient. But they also say that local small stores are convenient, well priced and have quality goods. More than half say that nothing needs to be done to improve shopping in Ludlow town centre. That’s why we do linked trips. That’s why we love Ludlow.

Half of those surveyed have no dislike of the stores they do their main shopping in. But around 16% are concerned about the limited range of goods and prices.

My own informal polling suggests that the main issue is not convenience goods. It is not the cost of baked beans or toilet rolls. It’s getting clothing, especially children’s clothing, where we have a market failure.

I ran an online poll in January 2015. Of those that wanted a new supermarket, 63% wanted an Asda. When I talked to people who voted that way, they said it’s mostly about clothes. Indeed, only one fifth of Ludlow people buy their clothes in Ludlow, according to the telephone survey.

There is no guarantee that the retailer at Rocks Green will address this issue. We don’t know whether it will be a Netto or a Waitrose, or indeed an Asda.

The telephone survey shows that the location of the current stores is sustainable. Nearly a quarter of people walk to the stores to do their main shop. Most of those walk home too. Some go by taxi or bus.

Half of those doing top up shopping walk to the shops. All these people are walking. Our retail model in Ludlow is very, very sustainable.

The applicant’s own data shows that Ludlow works as a retail environment.

I am always struck by the difference between Ludlow and Leominster. I spent a couple of years going to the Jobcentre in Leominster. I saw how empty that town was day in, day out. That’s not the case in Ludlow, where the streets are always busy on weekdays and of course weekends. That’s because Ludlow works as a town centre. Leominster town centre has been sucked dry by an out of town store. We could list towns all around the country with parades of empty town centre shops. Town centres that don’t live. People don’t want to go to these town centres and they don’t go there.

Going back to linked trips, the developer says that the reduction in linked trips will be minimal. Officers think it will be higher. Neither are using any hard data. But it obvious that if people shop out of town, they are going to make fewer trips into town. We have seen from the survey data that Ludlow is a town that love to walk. The walk from Rocks Green to the Market Square takes 25 minutes. A fifty-minute return walk isn’t going to happen often, especially as any retailer at Rocks Green is likely to limit parking to 2 hours. So people will drive. It is a moot point whether this is still a linked trip but it is absolutely clear to me that there will be a substantial drop in linked trips if people are drawn to an out of town store.

One question the surveys might have asked is: “If Ludlow had an out of town store, would you shop there and continue your journey to shop in the town centre?” That question was not asked. We could guess at the reduction in linked trips – and I think the data in the officers’ report is no more than guesswork – or we could look to other towns.

Across the country we have seen town centres destroyed by out of town stores. Planners and civic bodies are struggling to revive them. The survey data shows that Ludlow town centre is healthy. It works as a retail destination because we have large supermarkets, small shops and the market cheek by jowl. I have no doubt that the proposed supermarket at Rocks Green will destroy our town centre as so many other centres have been destroyed.

This is an aggressive proposal that will forever change the character of Ludlow. It will destroy the neighbourhood environment at Rocks Green.

The council’s retail consultant, Peter Brett, says that the impact on the town centre will be “not insignificant”. Taking out the double negative, Brett says the impact will be significant. Shropshire Council’s planning policy team says the impact will be “less than significant”. There is no explanation on why this council thinks the impact will be less significant than its advisers state. In any event, I think that Brett, this council and the developer underestimate the devastating impact this proposal will have on the character and resilience of our town.

We do not know which operator will take on this store. The impact will be different between a high end supermarket and low end discount trader. A possibility not considered in the officers’ report is that Aldi or Tesco will move out of the town centre area to Rocks Green.

We are not scared of change in our town. We are planning major housing developments. This committee has approved a convenience store and petrol filling station on Bromfield Road.

Tesco and Aldi in synergy with town centre traders. The suggestion that we have a dislike of supermarkets is plain wrong. These stores are busy but not overcrowded.

The Rocks Green area needs a convenience store but not a giant supermarket.

This supermarket is the wrong development for Ludlow. We don’t want to be clone town. We don’t want to be just like anywhere else. We want to be Ludlow. We have a unique and highly sustainable retail environment. We want to keep that.

I urge the committee to reject the officers’ recommendation for approval of this scheme. I am happy to make a proposal to that effect.

Reasons for refusal

The committee chair asked me to give formal reasons for refusal. After debate the following was agreed as a “minded for refusal”.

The committee is minded to refuse this application on the following grounds:

The site lies outside the SAMDev boundary and conflicts with S10.

The proposal conflicts with policy CS15 which seeks to protect town centres. Also NPPF 27, which says that retail developments should be refused when they have a significant impact on town centres.

CS6 requires proposals likely to generate significant levels of traffic to be located in accessible locations where opportunities for walking, cycling and use of public transport can be maximised and the need for car based travel to be reduced. Also CS6 states that development should contribute to the health and wellbeing of communities, including safeguarding residential and local amenity.

There is insufficient information on the traffic consequences of this scheme given the recent screening application for LUD017.

Notes

[1]. Tesco 51%. Aldi 30%. Former Co-op 8%.

7 thoughts on “Planners failed us on the Rocks Green supermarket application

  1. Is there away we in a rural area who backed for the Rocks green supermarket can help .Reason why we backed this plan is a lot of vulnerable and elderly people and carers found that it was easier to get to the rocks green area , than carrying on to Tesco or Aldi’s also the group who was going to build the Supermarket promised the people in the rural part that they would provide free buses to come to such places as Clee Hill,Tenbury and cleobury Mortimer.Pick people up to go shopping . Anyway why don’t they build a supermarket where they once proposed to build a Hospital on the industrial estate

  2. Thank you Andy, I completely agree with your analysis of the likely impact of this development.

    The council-commissioned report by Peter Brett Associates estimated that this supermarket would reduce town centre trade by 11%. The planners response – 11% is “less than significant”. I would suggest that 11% is the difference between a vibrant town centre and another ghost town.

    How can for the planners persist in supporting this development in the face of the obvious? How can we have confidence that their impartiality has not been ‘tainted’?

  3. I think I am right in remembering that the’ planners’ are not planning officers employed by Shropshire Council but rather a company whose website reveals that their main interest is enabling developers achieve their goals. Given this, it is inevitable what their recommendation would be. We are reaping Shropshire Council’s belief that everything is better and more cheaply done in the private sector; obviously this statement is nothing like accurate but more significantly is the fact that the private sector operates on the basis of making the maximum profit. This company has to demonstrate to prospective clients that they ‘can come up with the goods’; their task is not to reach a planning decision that is based on suitability, concern for the community, preservation of the environment or even taking account of local plans, Quod est demonstrandum.

  4. The committee needs to stick to their guns and get this proposal refused. Once that happens and the inevitable appeal is lodged, the Council officers will have to support the committee’s refusal in defence of the appeal made against the Council. The committee therefore needs to come up with as many sound reasons for refusal as possible as these will form the basis of the Council’s defence in an appeal. Once the appeal is lodged I suggest that the Council commissions its own surveys of residents, visitors, businesses – which would include straightforward questions such as “if this supermarket is built how many fewer trips to the town centre would you make per month” (etc).

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