Last updated: 11th August 2009. For more recent updates on the Campaign, please see the front page of the website.
Here is an update on the current situation, as we approach day 650 of Tesco not opening on Mill Road. (We apologise that this FAQ is quite lengthy, but it is an attempt to summarise all aspects of the situation so that people are fully informed!)
Work being done on the Wilco site
Tesco currently have shopfitters who have been installing plant and fitting out the site at 163-167 Mill Road. This is despite the lack of planning permission to service the shop legally and safely (see below). This activity is in line with many other reports we have found documented around the country of an approach by Tesco of “trade first, seek permission later”. Tesco have no legal options open to it of delivering to the store in large lorries.
What planning permission does Tesco have?
Tesco have only the planning permission inherited from the previous owners of the site, Wilco. This is for what is called an ‘A1 premises’, i.e. general shop premises. Tesco failed in both of its attempts to extend this planning permission. This site also has a specific planning condition (i.e. a restriction) which specifically says that deliveries have to be made from the rear of the site. Tesco therefore cannot legally deliver from on Mill Road.
What planning permission does Tesco not have?
Tesco cannot build an extension at the back of the premises. They cannot add external air conditioning. They cannot legally deliver to the front of the premises. At present they do not have an alcohol license either.
What delivery proposals have Tesco proposed?
Tesco outlined their delivery regime at the public inquiry. They proposed two main daily deliveries of 41 minutes each, in 34ft (10.35m) lorries, to the store daily. They also proposed three additional daily deliveries from smaller lorries, made by suppliers In total, there would be at 35 deliveries per week. Tesco put forward three delivery options at the public inquiry. The public inquiry found that they had no legal and safe way to deliver, and refused Tesco planning permission for that reason.
Delivery option 1: deliver from on Mill Road: explicitly disallowed by planning condition
This is the option that Tesco have been pursuing. It would involve a 34ft (10.35m) lorry parked on Mill Road, twice a day, for 41 minutes a time, plus three more deliveries every day from suppliers, of around 10 minutes each. Anyone who uses Mill Road can imagine the problems this would cause. The on-street markings and signage prevent deliveries during peak hours only. However, and crucially, the site which Tesco are using has a specific planning condition on it which prevents deliveries via the front of the store. This planning condition (C/71/0826) dates from 1971 and the issues of avoiding traffic problems remain even more relevant today, given the much greater volume of traffic on Mill Road, and the very poor accident record of the area.
What has the City Council said about the planning condition preventing deliveries from Mill Road?
The City Council issued a clear statement on 8th August:”There is a lawful planning consent for the use of 163-167 Mill Road for retail use which requires deliveries to be made only from a rear service yard. We are urgently contacting Tesco to establish the company’s intention for the premises given the lawful consent. If it becomes clear that enforcement action may be necessary then the officers will report to members as soon as possible on options for further action”. We believe this clearly acknowledges the validity of this planning consent.
What about enforcement of this planning condition by the City Council?
The City Council needs to make a decision quickly on this. Tesco have announced their intention to deliver in a way which will disregard the existing planning condition. No Mill Road Tesco have engaged the services of a legal firm, who have written to the City Council. We will update supporters with the situation as it progresses in the coming week or two.
Delivery option 2: drive a 34ft lorry round the loop of Catherine Street (both halves) and Sedgwick Street: impractical and unsafe
This was another option put forward at the public inquiry. The government inspector concluded that “the loop option “would pose a significant increase in the risk of accidents, damage and injury to vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians around the loop”. These large lorries would also have to make difficult and time-consuming turning deliveries into the site. Tesco’s own consultants recognised in an e-mail to the Council that this was not a safe option, even if using slightly smaller vehicles; they wrote: “This arrangement has the potential to cause detriment to the amenity and safety of local residents, due to multiple delivery movements per day with what will still be large vehicles. There is the also potential that poorly parked vehicles on could block access, requiring long and potentially dangerous reversing manoeuvres or police action.”
Delivery option 3: make Sedgwick Street two-way at the very start only: not realistic and not safe
Tesco wanted the Council to make this change for Tesco’s own convenience, but was told that they would be very unlikely to be successful if they applied for it. Planning guidance makes clear that it is for an applicant (Tesco in this case) to adapt its operations to a site, rather than expect Councillors to bend over backwards to facilitate changes. Many local people pointed out the obvious dangers involved in allowing a large delivery lorry to drive into oncoming traffic in a narrow residential street. The government inspector said that “I find that there is no realistic prospect of a TRO” [Traffic Regulation Order, which would allow this.] The issue of turning movements into the site itself would also arise as per the first option.
Certificate of Lawful Development
A City Council planning officer told Tesco in writing on 6 May 2009 that “I would advise that a Certificate of Lawfulness application is sought for the proposed works so that the Council can make a proper assessment of the proposed works and give an informed formal legal view as to whether or not these works require planning permission.” After taking legal advice, Tesco decided not to make this application. Since the certificate would have been useful to them in establishing planning permission in a disputed case, we assume that they decided against the application because they were advised that they were unlikely to be successful. Although the Council thought that the application would help them to decide “whether or not these works require planning permission” it would appear that they decided not to follow this up with Tesco. Using the Freedom of Information Act, the campaign has requested details of the Council’s decision-making on this point.
What is the situation regarding alcohol sales?
Tesco have applied to sell alcohol from 6am – 11pm, seven day a week. It is clear from the plans they submitted as part of this application that a large percentage of the store will be for alcohol sales. Residents of Mill Road will be aware of the long history of alcohol-related problems, which are an all-day problem and not just a night-time issue. Because of those problems, Mill Road has become a Cumulative Impact Zone, specifically to limit off-licence sales. That does not affect existing licenses but means that any additional alcohol sales (which creates a cumulative effect) must be shown not to worsen the problem. No Mill Road Tesco has opposed the license application, and we understand the Council have received 120 letters and a petition on the subject. The police have opposed the application.
When will the alcohol license be decided?
The license will be considered by a panel of three Councillors at 10am, 17th August, at the Guildhall. This meeting is open to the public. We encourage people to attend if they are not at work that morning or can take time off. The documents for the meeting are at: http://www.cambridge.gov.uk/public/councillors/agenda/2009/0817licsub/ .
What about air conditioning that Tesco have installed?
Tesco seem to have installed air conditioning within the site itself, and pipes have been installed on the external walls, and the back of the site now has visible grilles. We are still checking whether this requires planning permission. Given that Tesco’s planning application for air conditioning on the external walls failed, the Council advised Tesco to obtain a Certificate of Lawful Development, which it did not do. Internal air conditioning will certainly have reduced the internal storage space available on an already cramped site. We have photographs of the site before Tesco’s contractors moved in, so we will have evidence of any changes to the building.
What proposals are coming forward to improve safety on Mill Road?
The County Council are independently planning to spend £400,000 on a safety scheme on Mill Road. This is because the two halves of Mill Road are the 3rd and 4th highest accident blackspots in the whole of Cambridgeshire. Key causes of problems are speeds at night and problems due to parked cars and delivery vehicles. It will make a mockery of spending almost half-a-million pounds if the City Council fails to enforce a basic planning condition which would prevent the worsening of existing problems caused by delivery vehicles.
There are already lorry deliveries to Mill Road; why can’t Tesco do so?
There is a specific planning condition on the site that Tesco have acquired, which specifically prevents unloading from on Mill Road. There is already an existing safety and traffic flow problem, and the issue is that additional deliveries, in contravention of this existing regulation, would worsen the existing situation. Both councillors and the planning inspector also thought that Tesco’s delivery plans would be dangerous and contrary to planning guidance because of the nature and number of deliveries needed by Tesco.
What attempts have Tesco made to extend what it can do on the site?
Tesco have made two attempts to make the site better suited to their just-in-time, high throughput, business model. They first applied to create an extension at the back of the building. They then applied to install air conditioning. Both have been refused. They told the inquiry that their intention was to open up using the existing building and then apply for an extension again later. We assume that this is still their plan.
What happened with Tesco’s first planning application, to create an extension at the back of the building?
It was refused by a government inspector. Tesco put in a Planning Application in September 2007 to build an extension at the back of the premises. This was refused by Councillors in March 2008, and went to Appeal. A government inspector examined the evidence and agreed with the Council’s decision, throwing out the application for an extension in November 2008. He stated “I find that both of the realistically available servicing options would pose unacceptable risks to highway safety, which would not be outweighed by benefits or the fallback position. I therefore conclude that both appeals should be dismissed.” Tesco are therefore legally not permitted to build an extension.
What happened with Tesco’s second planning application, to install air conditioning and refrigeration plant?
Tesco made a second planning application in June 2008 for air conditioning and refrigeration plant at the back of the store. This was also refused by Councillors in July 2008 on the grounds that it would facilitate a store with the same problematic lorry deliveries. Tesco appealed again. It then unexpectedly withdrew the appeal (and therefore the planning application) in February 2009. We assume that this is because they were not confident about their chances of winning. So Tesco do not have planning permission to install external air conditioning or refrigeration plant.
Where can I read the government inspector’s report?
It is online at: http://www.nomillroadtesco.org/2008/11/12/tesco-lose-planning-appeal/ and is well worth a read. It contains very many statements about the legality and safety aspects of Tesco’s proposed operation, and came after a whole week of submission and examination of evidence in public. As a report from a government inspector, its conclusions therefore deserve serious weight.
Does No Mill Road Tesco have a view on Tesco more generally?
No. Our concerns are for the safety of the area, as well as the damage that a Tesco would do other traders on Mill Road (and thereby choice in the longer term) and the practical effects of the operation of the store. We have taken no position whatsoever on Tesco’s most recent store opening at the Leisure Park, nor its possible forthcoming East Road store. Amongst supporters of NMRT are people who shop at Tesco, Tesco Clubcard holders and shareholders. Collectively we take the view that Mill Road is not an appropriate place for a Tesco store.
Does opposition to Tesco on Mill Road mean denying choice?
No, a Tesco store on Mill Road would reduce choice, not increase it. Mill Road currently has 20 foodstores, and two independent off-licences. The evidence strongly suggests that many of these will go out of business if a Tesco opens on Mill Road because of the tactics used by supermarket giants like Tesco. People who wish to shop at a Tesco have plenty of choice already, since there are 5 Tesco-owned stores within 2 miles of this site.
What other stores does Tesco have in Cambridge?
There are 13 Tesco-owned stores in Cambridge. Tesco already has a majority of the grocery business (over 51%) in the city, making Cambridge one of the most Tesco-dominated towns in the UK. As the Competition Commission noted in its report on supermarkets, this kind of local dominance is bad for competition and bad for the consumer. Tesco have recently opened a store at the Leisure Park, and we understand that it intends to open on East Road next to Blockbuster video. If they were to open on Mill Road, this would mean that they had opened 3 more stores in Cambridge in 2009 alone.
Have the contractors fitting out the store been acting responsibly?
Not always. We have video footage of them driving the wrong way up Sedgwick Street. They have also been photographed sweeping tar into a drain. They have also been spotted driving onto the pavement and stopping on Mill Road during the rush-hour restricted loading period. This evidence is on our website. We have concerns about the safety practices of the contractors on site and this has been reported to the Health and Safety Executive.
What opposition tactics has No Mill Road Tesco used?
We have always undertaken entirely legal and legitimate campaigning activity. We condemn any activity which involves violence, damage to property or non-courteous approaches to Tesco’s employees or contractors. Also, we were not connected to the squatting activity. Over the 650 days that Tesco have been kept away from Mill Road, we have organised many public meetings, demonstrations, wrote tens of letters and press releases, wrote to Councillors, collectively thousands of e-mails, even organised a human lorry, and done all we can to publicise what is going on. We have always strived to operate in a democratic manner, to keep people on-board.
Who opposes a Tesco store on Mill Road?
Over 5,000 people have signed our petition, which was only available on Mill Road itself and not online, showing that signatories are people with a real interest in the future of Mill Road. Cambridge Friends of the Earth has also been opposing the store, as has Cambridge Cycling Campaign (whose concern is for the worsening of already problematic deliveries along Mill Road).
Can I donate funds to help No Mill Road Tesco’s legal costs?
Yes, please leave money in the collection buckets in Arjuna or Libra Aries. (Cheques should be made payable to: Mill Road Society.) Thousands of pounds have now been raised but more is still needed.
Where can I find out more?
Go to our website at www.nomillroadtesco.org .