Shropshire Council’s Southern Planning Committee this afternoon approved the application for a foodstore off Sheet Road outside the A49 bypass.
There were concerns about the impact the store will have on the town centre. Committee members were more concerned about the safety of pedestrians crossing Sheet Road between the Eco Park bus stops, Ledwyche Rise and the M&S site. There was a motion to delay a decision until the committee had more information on what improvements could be made to the current plans for Sheet Road but that was defeated on a majority vote. The committee went on to approve the application and delegate to officers resolving the issues on Sheet Road.
Not everyone will be happy with the committee’s decision today but in my view, there were no sound reasons in the planning rules for turning it down. A refusal would mean an appeal that we would undoubtedly lose. As a committee, we are happy to defend our decisions at appeals, a time consuming and sometimes stressful process. We have a few appeals underway at the moment. But while we might test the boundaries of planning rules and the contradictions within them, we would lose an appeal if we had turned down M&S Food.
The main reason for approval was that most members welcomed the application. There was no outright opposition but as I have mentioned, we were concerned about safety on Sheet Road.
I was concerned that overflow and passing traffic would park on Sheet Road, which would create a hazard. Double yellow lines are needed. Officers and Ian Kilby from Berrys thought the car park, which was reduced from 180 to 160 spaces to “improve sustainability”, was more than sufficient. I am not convinced that will be the case at peak times before public holidays.
There is a need for a zebra crossing. Highways officers at the meeting gave a number of reasons against including that it would not meet national guidelines. There will be a designated crossing point using drop kerbs. I said that was not sufficient and most of the committee agreed with me. Safety schemes should be funded by M&S, not the taxpayer. I looked to the agent and he nodded in agreement.
One councillor was so concerned about these issues, he proposed deferring a decision until more information on a scheme for Sheet Road was approved. I opposed a deferral because it was clear the committee wanted to approve the scheme and we usually delegate technical matters to officers. The motion to defer was defeated by six votes to four. Then we went on to approve the scheme unanimously, while delegating to officers the Sheet Road issues.
There will be an impact on the town centre. This point was emphasised in late objections sent directly to committee members from Davies Street. The objections did not mention that Davies Street owns the Sainsbury’s site. (Naughty but we spotted it.) Sainsbury’s will be hit hardest by M&S Food. Tesco also made a late objection, again emphasising the impact on the town centre. Tesco and Aldi will get big hits according to estimates. Aldi did not object.
The loss of an estimated £1.8m from town centre trade will hurt but even in the current climate but the prospects of the town centre are not as gloomy as some people portray. Shops are being let, contracts for refurbishment tendered. It’s not brilliant but the town centre is not dying.
The committee made the right decision today. It was the only decision we could make within the planning framework we work within. On balance, this is the right decision for our town.