Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Case Against Tesco in Westgate

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 highways assessment appears inadequate at best and flawed at worst. It fails to take proper account of issues of visible congestion and road safety, given the dangers presented by large delivery vehicles, the parking provision offered and the worryingly narrow width of the pavement outside the building.

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.

The report states "...The development would widen the choice to consumers..." A selective quote again. This is a dubious statement, as TESCO demonstrably fails, as, by its own admission, it will offer only a limited range of goods. A Co-Op already exists in Station Road, with extended opening hours offering a wide range of goods. If this element is to be introduced as an argument then may the objecting public also see the "demonstration of need" (Policies TC1/TC8 of the Local Plan - LP).

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.

Planning permission was granted and remains current for a development of four individual units on the site. This original plan seems compliant with the Thanet Local Plan and so our Planning department seeks to erroneously use the 'Grandfather Rights' argument, stating that it would therefore be ‘unreasonable’ to refuse the TESCO proposal, as it is broadly similar in overall size. This is flawed logic as a child could see that the two proposals are very different indeed.

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."

In conclusion Members, this application is an example of the Emperors new clothes. The officers’ advice may appear convincing but in reality there is nothing of substance in either the local plan or the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF ) to support their recommendation to approve. To claim that the NPPF overrides the LP is clearly wrong, as in that case there is absolutely no point in having a Local Plan at all! It follows therefore, that to try to claim that the lack of a clear statement of 'Need' for development in the NPPF overrides the LP's requirement for 'need' also is wrong and you should reject the application on this basis.'

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.


Anonymous said...

3 minutes is a very short time indeed to try to protect what has been kept safe for over 100 years!

The original plan (which I would have objected to -I thought it was another for the yard on the other side of the railway) was dependent on the vitality of the parades. Tesco's is independent of it - it could even benefit if the existing parades didn't exist.

Anonymous said...

Credit where credit is due. That is a brilliant representation. Well done.

Anonymous said...

We live in Broadstairs but visit Westgate to enjoy its mix of shops and eateries. It is a joy to eat in Pauls and look at the canopied shops opposite. Thanet is already overwhelmed with Tesco's et al as the towns are so close together. There is no need for any more. I hope your very convincing argument gets the consideration that it deserves.

Anonymous said...

According to a recent poll 67% of residents WANT Tesco!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a bunch of Nimbys to me...bring on Tesco. Might make our shops become competative!

Anonymous said...

Well argued and cogent, one wonders why the TDC planning officers would support this application, I could make a few good guesses but had better not do so on here.
Thanks for all your efforts, there are enough Tesco stores within easy reach of Westgate and enough grocery stores in Westgate to assure adequate choice.
Mike Wilson, trader from Westbrook

Anonymous said...

Local traders being against this is a no brainer, it's a bit like taxi drivers being against more bus services.

1 o'clock Rob said...

@ Anon 4:12, I love this bit about the vote "Thanks to everyone who bothered to vote". Looks like 3 people voted, 2 for and 1 against.. compared to 2000 signatures sourced primarily from people shopping in Westgate!

Good luck with the 3 minutes Simon.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps someone can persuade them to open a small store in Birchington instead? Currently there's TWO Co-Ops & no other supermarkets, so they could do with a little competition.