At 3.20pm this afternoon, Shropshire Council’s Southern Planning Committee unanimously decided to approve a Sainsbury’s supermarket and Argos at Rocks Green. The development will also include a petrol filling station and four EV charging points.
This is a decision that will divide our town. In my last straw poll, 59% thought Sainsbury’s will be good for Ludlow. They wanted a greater choice of shopping. But just over a third of respondents thought the supermarket would be bad for Ludlow. They were concerned with the survival of Ludlow’s town centre. Make or break our town, we are going to get what one councillor described as a “gruesome supermarket building”.
The decision came after planning officers spent 20 minutes introducing the scheme after which there was five minutes discussion by planning committee members. I had previous submitted a comment as had the developer. Viv Parry, councillor for Ludlow South and Rocks Green, did not comment or attend.
This decision ends a planning saga that began in 2014. After a lengthy debate across Ludlow and discussions in two planning committee meetings, the principle of the scheme was approved in 2017. I had proposed rejecting the scheme, but a counter proposal by Gwilym Butler for Cleobury Mortimer put forward approval because he said something “should be done for the ordinary people of Ludlow”. The development was approved by a single vote.
At that point, the committee thought it was approving a scheme with Lidl as the anchor tenant. But after the meeting, Lidl reconsidered its expansion plans and dropped Ludlow. Blackfriars Property began wooing other supermarket chains. Marks and Spencer came into the frame, planning to launch a new format food store in Ludlow. The scheme was redesigned to accommodate M&S. But then M&S walked away. Earlier this summer, Viv Parry and I were told that Sainsbury’s was the new prospect.
Because the scheme was approved in outline in 2017, the planning committee could not reject the principle of the scheme today. It did have the option of rejecting the design of the scheme or to modify the scheme but the only concerns raised by the two committee members who spoke were about plating and lighting. Councillor Cecilia Motley gave the quote of the day along the lines of – ‘with the greatest respect to Mr Sainsbury’s, supermarkets are not thing of beauty’. She hoped for ‘softening of that rather gruesome building’.
The prospect of an out of town supermarket has become much closer to a reality with today’s decision. The retail market is more turbulent than ever now and that means even permitted schemes can end up not being built. But Sainsbury’s has told us it is keen to get its spades in the ground and get on with the project.
Blackfriars Property is expected to start work on the site in the next few months to try and get the site reprofiled before the worst of the winter limits large scale earth movement. Working times are limited in the outline planning permission Monday to Friday 07:30-18:00 and Saturday 08:00-13:00. But emergency Covid-19 rules could mean that work continues until 9pm Monday to Saturday. I hope officers will resist any application for extended hours to preserve the peace and quiet of residents of Rocks Green.
We now need to move our attention back to Ludlow town centre. It has suffered this year with Covid-19 and the need to cancel most festivals. We need to plan for its long term future as a town of independent traders, distinctive shopping and a welcoming place to be.
It is an irony of the way our system works that we direct a lot of our resources to an out of town supermarket application but have very limited resources to protect one of the finest historic town centres in the country.