This is my speech for the Thanet District Council Planning Committee meeting this evening.
'Chair and members of the planning committee. When from a small population of 6,000 people, a petition receives over 2,000 signatures, it expresses a voice more powerful and in larger numbers than the democratic process that put any one of us in this chamber tonight.
Our respected local historian, Dr Dawn Crouch, reminds us that Station Road, Westgate on Sea with its rare canopied shops is completely Victorian in nature and as such should be cherished. Westgate’s town centre represents a conservation area with a unique heritage and history. This application will effectively trample on our past and set an immediate precedent for future development on the southern side of Station Road.
I will argue that this application is out of keeping with the existing and historic townscape and that the officers’ advice is flawed and fails to demonstrate the ‘Need’ required in our local policies TC1 and TC8. I will further argue that officers’ advice to this committee is highly selective and if you have any doubts, you should reject this application and I would ask you to consider a site visit.
A two-storey retail outlet on the south side of the road would be incongruous. The plans for TESCO show a building many times the width of the average shop front in Westgate. This is totally out of keeping with the character and history of the town.
The Council’s Policy TC1 on retail development, describes new development in central commercial centres of main Thanet. Outside these core areas, proposals must demonstrate need, and assess the impact on existing businesses.Tescos are already proposing a major at Arlington House and have a smaller store a mile away in Westbrook. How much more "choice" do we need?
I struggle to see how any new supermarket on the proposed site accords with policy TC8. This policy, while potentially allowing additional shopping provision, requires any proposals to clearly demonstrate the "need" for extra facilities. This is a considerable requirement, and is a higher hurdle to leap than a simple application to build, when the criterion may be largely determined by architecture and design. By its own admission the proposed store is aimed solely at "Top-up shopping" and does not demonstrate any 'need' in its proposal.
Policy TC8 envisages development to be local shops. Larger food stores may be applicable but again the “need” must be explicitly established. Thanet’s Local Plan, specifically states that ‘Westgate is well served, is in state of retail equilibrium’, and also that existing diversity and vibrancy of local centres must be maintained.
Officers support the proposal by stating that as the store will be less than 1000 SQ2m and therefore accords with the planning guidance. This is disingenuous, as it completely disregards the local policy para 4.88 i.e "...The District Council envisages that any new retail shops within these centres should be local shops, to serve the local catchment of the particular centre..." The 1000 SQ2m consideration is then simply a limit on the size of retail development, and is not the criterion for approval in principle.
Under policy TC1, in particular paragraph 2, the onus is on the applicant to assess the potential impact on existing businesses. The application states it expects to provide a small number of full and part-time jobs in Westgate, but makes no mention of the likely impact on our existing businesses, who have asked me to express their real concerns based on the experience of small towns elsewhere. Surely that must be a key matter in maintaining the vibrancy of Westgate centre.
The officer’s advice clearly omits the section (para 4.87 of the Local Plan LP) "It is important that the vitality of these centres is maintained."
Three minutes is a very short time indeed and can't do justice to detail required in making an objection like this one. My grateful thanks to Dr Dawn Crouch and to Martin Powell for their work, advice and expert assistance in preparing this objection.