Yesterday, 2 March, Shropshire Council planners approved a 21,000 square foot supermarket on the edge of Ludlow at Rocks Green. This follows a decision by Sajid Javid, the local government and communities minister, not to call the application in for his own determination.
Whether the supermarket is good for the town, as many argue, or whether it will destroy our unique town centre, as others claim, this scheme will change Ludlow more than any other planning application approved in recent years.
The Rocks Green application has been controversial from the outset (14/05573/OUT). The plans were approved by the South Planning Committee on a single vote majority three weeks ago.
After the committee vote, the application was sent to the National Planning Casework Unit, part of the planning inspectorate. This acts on behalf the secretary of state. His view was needed because this is a large retail unit, out of the town centre and contrary to the local plan, SAMDev. The reply from the NCPU has not been published but yesterday, the council issued outline planning permission.
This is best described as permission in principle. The next stage is full planning permission, known as reserved matters. This must be submitted to Shropshire Council within three years. Planning officers made it clear at the South Planning Committee meeting that they were unhappy with many aspects of the proposed layout, including the positioning of the store and location of loading bays.
“Officers remain of the opinion that a different layout could be achieved which moves the store and service yard further from the existing dwellings and also retains the existing landscaping along the A49.”
The detailed application will return to the South Planning Committee for approval. The committee will not be able to reject the scheme but could suggest modifications if the members are unhappy with the final scheme.
After final planning permission is granted, the development must commence within two years.
Restrictions to the planning permission have been put in place “to safeguard the vitality and viability of Ludlow town centre.” No more than 25% of the sales floor area of the store can be used for comparison goods, items like clothing, electrical goods, tools and garden equipment. The store cannot include a post office, dry cleaners, travel agents, optician or pharmacy without an application to vary the planning permission.
Before construction can start, the developer must submit a construction traffic management plan giving details of hours of operation, delivery times, access routes and procedures “to reduce the spread of deleterious material on the strategic road network.” The planning conditions make no mention of reducing the impact of construction traffic on Rocks Green residents, though I am sure that will be considered.
Before construction can start, the developer must submit a scheme for improving the junction of the A4117 and Dun Cow Road, though the improvements will not need to be in place until the store is about to open.
Before the store is opened, the retailers will need to submit a travel plan, designed “to minimise the use of the private car and promote the use of sustainable modes of transport.” I find this condition somewhat ironic as out of town supermarkets maximise the use of the private cars, and this scheme will have 188 car parking spaces.
Which retailer will take on the site? We don’t know. Before the application was approved, Lidl wrote to Shropshire Council suggesting it was interested. The South Planning Committee was told that Sainsbury’s was also considering making an offer. We probably will not know which retailer will take up the site for some time.
This proposal has divided Ludlow. I fear it will reduce footfall in the town centre, especially if it is a Sainsbury’s. Lidl might have less of an impact. But the store will offer more choice and may sell clothing. We certainly need a reasonably priced clothing retailer in Ludlow. We desperately need a second petrol filling station to compete with the Co-op and reduce the length of queues for fuel. We could even end up with three petrol stations.
Now that outline planning permission has been given, we need to make this development the best we can. The last thing we want is an eyesore development on the edge of town. That means working with the developer to ensure the site is well screened. That is, of course the opposite of what retailers want. They want to be as visible to as much passing traffic as possible. We also need to reduce the impact of traffic on the Rocks Green community. I fear they will be locked in by traffic queues on a Friday evening and Saturday morning.
Whichever retailer comes to Rocks Green, however the problems with landscape and access are solved, this planning approval will change Ludlow more than any other since the town centre Tesco was approved.
With the huge rises in business rates, I fear for the future of Ludlow’s independent traders. That will mean that our town centre will become just like anywhere else – chain stores and charity shops.
. The proposed store is restricted on what it can’t sell but not obliged to sell comparison goods such as clothing.
. Planning permission has been given for a petrol filling station and convenience store on the junction of Coronation Avenue and Bromfield Road. Work is expected to begin in the summer.