Comments on the planning officers’ report

We sent these comments on the planning officers’ report for application 07/0811/FUL to Councillors of the East Area Committee on 15th January 2008.


1. The report makes two important, underlying assumptions, both of which we consider to be incorrect.

1.1 Firstly, it assumes that the application relates primarily to the extension and secondarily to the installation of air conditioning and refrigeration units. It ignores the consequent changes to the existing rear area of the site, which require the existing planning consent to be overturned and which will run counter to Local Plan 3.14, as well as raising serious problems relating to car parking and traffic congestion.

1.2 The second assumption is that since the proposal is to fill an A1 shop site with an A1 business, there will be no impact on key issues such as road safety, congestion, car parking requirements or the vitality and viability of the local shopping centre. This is an incorrect assumption. There is no change of use proposed in the restricted sense that this would be an A1 development, but there is a very evident change of function in the broader sense that a site previously occupied by a car accessories store would be occupied by a convenience grocery store and, moreover, one with high brand recognition and a uniquely high volume of daily deliveries. This means that the planning officers’ decision to treat a Tesco Express as functionally identical to a Wilco store is not tenable.

2. This is an incomplete report that fails to address, let alone answer, any of the numerous and substantial planning grounds for objection that we sent to the planners in October 2007. By the planning officers’ own estimate, four of what they think are the six main issues are not considered at all in this report. In addition, serious matters including traffic congestion and vitality and viability are not identified as important considerations, despite the fact that the planning officers identify as relevant to the decision national and local planning guidance that would require them to consider these matters.

3. The substance of the hundreds of objections made to this application are not discussed at all. The three-item summary of the issues covered by the objections (the sum total of the report’s consideration of all objections) represents only a small portion of the planning-related issues about which local residents wrote to the planning officer.

4. The effect of this is that the views of local residents have been excluded from this report – the report on which you, as members of the East Area Committee, are expected to make a judgement about the merits and faults of the application.

This is not in any way consistent with the assertions of the Council’s Service Policy and Standards for the Development Control Service that ‘all written representations on planning grounds are taken into account in the assessment of the application and are recorded and summarised in the case officer’s report’ and that ‘our objectives are to ensure that […] local people have a say and an influence in what happens around them.’

5. Just as seriously, by excluding the views of local residents, the report also excludes all the planning grounds for objection. There is no discussion at all of

  • changes to existing planning permissions to the site, and the impact this will have on car parking, congestion and road safety;
  • the ways in which the proposal contravenes Local Plan 3.14, 6/7, 6.16, 6.17, 8.7, 8.9, and 8.21, as well as central government guidance PPS6 (see our original planning objections and this document on these points);
  • the impact of deliveries to the site on congestion, road safety, and noise pollution;
  • the impact on the vitality and viability of Mill Road as a local centre.

This makes the document an entirely one-sided consideration of the application.

For all these reasons, we do not think that it would be reasonable to approve the application based on an incomplete, inaccurate and one-sided report.

The Detail of the Report

Having read the planning officers’ report on this application, we have a number of comments on what we regard as its very serious flaws. For greater clarity, the comments follow the structure of the report itself, with comments referring to the report’s numbered paragraphs. We would also ask you to re-read the objections documents, including the document on Tesco’s proposals to deliver to the rear of the site, which we sent you before Christmas (please let us know if you would like another copy)

Given the very brief time between the release of the report and the East Area Committee meeting on 17 January, our comments are more limited than they would have been had the report been released by any of the various deadlines we were assured of. We are happy to clarify any points should councillors find it useful. For information, councillors should also be aware that we have made a complaint about the administration and quality of this report.

Issues covered in these comments

  • Site description
  • How the planning officers view the proposal
  • Central Government Planning Policy
  • The Local Plan
  • Deliveries to the rear of the site: frequency and road safety
  • Car parking
  • Hours of operation for demolition and deliveries
  • Treatment of Objections to the Application
  • The Planners’ View of the Main Issues
  • Noise
  • The Constraints of the Site
  • Gaps in the Report
  • The Size of the Extension
  • Vitality and Viability
  • Reasons for approval

At Appendix A you will find comments on the Chesterton Tesco Express by a local resident, for comparison with this application.

Site Description

Paragraph 1.1

The report notes that the occupants of the offices on the first floor of the building at 163-167 Mill Road have parking spaces but fails to note that the occupants of 169 Mill Road also have parking spaces and access across the parking area at the rear of the site (access for which they pay for an annual licence). We drew planners’ attention to this in writing and verbally, pointing out that since the tenant of 169 is an estate agent, and require their cars to attend viewings, parking spaces are essential to their business, and the removal of some or all of their parking spaces that would follow from approval of the application would force these cars into the surrounding streets.

How the planning officers view the proposal

Paragraph 2.1

As paragraph 2.1 clearly indicates, the report concentrates on the extension itself and, to a lesser extent, on the installation of air conditioning and refrigeration units. This leads the planners to conclude in 6.2 that ‘the key issue in considering the application is whether the extension is acceptable in design/amenity terms’. We do not understand why the planners have adopted such an unnecessarily narrow focus. As is obvious from the application, its accompanying drawings, and a reference to the site’s planning history, the application entails not only the construction of an extension but major changes to the area at the rear of the site. To focus so closely on the extension itself ignores the wider impact to the rear of the site as a whole. It is this wider impact that we think is important, as well as the impact of these changes on the surrounding businesses and residential properties. (On the detail of these points, please see pages 2-4 of our objections to the proposals, a copy of which we sent you in December.)

Central Government Planning Policy

Paragraph 5.3

The planners say that central government planning policy on town centres (PPS6) is relevant to the application. It should be noted, therefore, that although the policy as summarised here by the planning officers requires that ‘new development is well served by a choice of means of transport’, this proposed development – as we pointed out in our objection to the application – is very poorly served by transport options, given that the applicants assume that no-one will visit by car (and are accordingly seeking to remove 18 car parking spaces from the site and Sedgwick Street) and that the public transport they expect shoppers to take is limited to a single bus route.

As summarised by the planners, PPS6 ‘seeks to enhance consumer choice’. For well-known reasons (summarised in the separate on vitality and viability that we sent you) the current unusually wide consumer choice on Mill Road – thirteen grocery stores, a butcher, a greengrocer, two off licences, a baker, and several newsagents also selling food and drink – will actually be reduced by the approval of the application.

It is notable that the issues identified by the planning officers in PPS6, and the other central government advice cited as relevant to the application, clearly raise issues that exceed the very narrow boundaries that the planners seem to set elsewhere for relevant considerations (essentially matters relating entirely to the extension itself and the air conditioning and refrigeration units). We agree with the implication of the report’s section on policy that issues such as consumer choice and transport are central to consideration of the application, even though they do not relate directly to the extension or units.

The Local Plan

Paragraph 5.7

We are curious to know the basis for officers’ selection of sections of the Local Plan as applicable to the applications, which is not explained in the report. Sections 8.7, 8.9, 8.21, 6.16 and 6.17 are also relevant, as is section 1.20, which states that ‘when a policy states that a certain type of development will be permitted it should also be understood that other types of development are likely to be refused’. As we noted in our objections (p.4), this has direct bearing on section 3.14, which says that ‘The extension of existing buildings will be permitted if they […] retain sufficient amenity space, bin storage, vehicular access and car and cycle parking.’ Since the application fails to provide any of these things, section 1.20 indicates that there should be a presumption of refusal.

Deliveries to the rear of the site: frequency and road safety

Paragraph 6.1

The report says that on the matter of deliveries:

The location of the corner in relationship to the premises will be the same no matter what type of A1 business occupied the premises: it could not, in my opinion, be demonstrated that a specific named occupier would be better or worse than any other.

We find this argument bizarre. Our campaign, and many other people, are very concerned about the road safety implications of deliveries to the rear of the site. A number of local residents are also understandably concerned about the noise of deliveries. To argue that the nature of the A1 business has no impact on these issues is, frankly, perverse. Grocery stores, by the nature of the goods they sell, require much more frequent and regular deliveries than other types of A1 business – the car accessories store that previously occupied the site, for example, or the carpet shop three doors down the street. In addition, and unusually, the specific, named occupier does have a bearing on the issue. Tesco have a well publicised ‘just in time’ policy which requires multiple daily deliveries – far more than other grocery stores – including (on their own estimate) several daily deliveries by 10 metre lorry and more deliveries by van. The opening of a Tesco store will necessarily generate dozens more weekly deliveries than the previous occupant of the site did.

As is well known. this section of Mill Road already has one of the worst accident rates in the county, and corners like the Sedgwick Street/Mill Road corner are particularly dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. Hugely increasing the number of lorries and vans delivering to this part of Mill Road (an increase of at least 30 per week) will obviously greatly increase the risk of accidents. This increase will be made still worse by the changes to the one way status of part of Sedgwick Street which such deliveries would require, which will be confusing for road users.

Car parking

This is not included in the report; the planning officers’ say that the issue will be considered on the Amendment Sheet. In its more detailed form (not included in the report), the Highway Authority stated that:

The proposal is not of sufficient size to warrant a Traffic Assessment; this is not a change of use, nor is there significant additional floor area. The only issue would be related to generation by a specific named occupier. It is not possible to predict the level of car usage that the proposal is likely to generate as it lies within an existing business frontage and there is considerable potential for linked trips, however, as opportunities are very limited for off street car parking, any increase is likely to be minimal.

As we have previously said, the applicant has more than 500 comparable, convenience-size stores in the UK; they must know how many shoppers they expect to arrive by car. To say that it is not possible to predict the number of shoppers arriving by car seems strange since the applicant must have made this calculation themselves. We can only conclude, therefore, that either the Highway Authority did not ask the applicant or that they asked and the applicant did not provide the required information. In either case it certainly does not suggest that the information is unobtainable, simply that it has not been obtained in this case.

In addition, the argument that there will not be any significant increase in traffic because there are ‘limited’ off-street car parking facilities (in fact there will be none) so that potential shoppers will make the rational decision not to come by car is unrealistic – put simply and as we all know, people don’t behave like that. Shoppers will come by car and then park illegally when they find nowhere to park, or they will cause further congestion by attempting to find parking spaces in the nearby residential streets. This is precisely what happens in relation to the Chesterton Tesco Express, according to a local resident (see Appendix A). The problem will be significantly increased by the removal of 18 existing car parking spaces on site and on Sedgwick Street and by the presence of an ATM machine – as is clear from the Lloyds Bank ATM machine on Mill Road, users will regularly park illegally in order to use it.

Once again, the argument that a grocery store – especially one with such high brand recognition – is no different from any other A1 user in the area in this respect is absurd. To take one obvious example, how many people are going to need somewhere to park their cars when they go to buy a bicycle from one of the cycle shops on Mill Road? Different types of store are going to generate different levels of traffic and different parking requirements. We all know this. In this respect, although the application is not for a change of use in technical, planning terms, it is clearly a change of function that will have a very significant and very negative impact on road safety, congestion and car parking in the area – all of which are directly relevant to planning considerations, as national and local planning guidance makes clear.

Hours of operation for demolition, construction, and deliveries

Paragraph 6.2, and Condition 4

We are very concerned that the planners are proposing that demolition and construction work be allowed as late as 11pm on weekdays, given that many residents in the immediate vicinity will be trying to sleep at this time, and that even at the weekend and on public holidays, work will be allowed to start at 7am. It is also proposed that the same hours of operation be allowed for deliveries. Since deliveries will happen every day the store is open (almost 365 days of the year), this is going make what is now a quiet street very noisy for those who live close to the rear of the site. (See comments on noise and Appendix A). We in no way agree with the planning officers that allowing first building works and then the unloading of noisy metal cages until 11 pm during the working week and at 7 am on, for example, a Bank Holiday ‘protect[s] the amenity of nearby residential properties’ (condition 4), in accordance with the local planning guidance they cite.

Treatment of Objections to the Application

Paragraphs 7.3

The list of addresses from which objections had been received is incomplete. We have written to the council’s Director of Environment and Planning to register a complaint about this.

Paragraphs 7.1-7.3

The report lists the grounds for objection as falling under three headings:

  • Impact on highway safety;
  • Impact on pedestrian and cyclist safety;
  • Impact on the vitality and viability of Mill Road;

While we did raise these three issues, we also raised issues of

  • noise pollution;
  • changes to existing planning permissions to the site;
  • the ways in which the proposal contravenes Local Plan 3.14
  • removal of car parking;
  • lack of cycle parking;
  • congestion;
  • waste disposal;
  • impact on a neighbouring business’s right of way and parking;

There is no indication in the report that we raised these objections in detail both in writing and verbally with planning officers (nor of the other areas of objection that we have been told people made). The report gives a deeply misleading picture of the scope of the objections received. It is also very unfortunate that none of the three issues identified are addressed in the report (see 8.8, 8.9, 8.10). The views of local residents have thus been excluded from the document on which you, as councillors, are asked to base your decision. We have written to the council’s Director of Environment and Planning to register a complaint about this.

The Planners’ View of the Main Issues

Paragraph 8.1

The report says that the main issues are

  1. Principle of development
  2. Residential amenity
  3. Refuse arrangements
  4. Highway safety
  5. Car and cycle parking
  6. Third party representations

We agree that these are all important issues. It is therefore a matter of concern that the planners fail to address items 3-6 in the report. With the caveat that it is impossible to tell whether or not the following are covered by ‘third party representations’ (since this issue is not actually discussed in the report), we think it is important to add the following:

  1. Vitality and viability of the local centre
  2. Traffic Congestion

The Size of the Extension

Paragraph 8.4

The report says that ‘The proposed extension is of a modest scale and is considered to be proportionate to the main building.’ As the report itself notes (8.3), the extension will increase the total size of the building by one third. In relation to the existing building therefore, it will be neither modest nor proportionate.


Paragraph 8.5 and see Hours of operation for demolition and for deliveries, above

We understand from conversations with planning officers and from some sections of this report that the Environmental Health Officer had concerns about the noise impact of the refrigeration and the air conditioning units, and that they specified that if approval were given on other grounds, it would have to be with strict noise-related conditions. Nevertheless, we were surprised to see that the Officer appeared not to have noticed that no background noise reading was taken from the road at the rear of the site, where these units would be located. As we noted in our original objections, a noise reading was only taken from Mill Road. As anyone who knows the area is aware, Mill Road is one of the busiest – and thus noisiest – roads into the city centre, and Sedgwick Street is a quiet residential street. To take a background noise reading on Mill Road as a basis for judgment about background noise on Sedgwick Street is, frankly, ridiculous. As we pointed out in our objections, the planners and the committee cannot make an informed judgment about the noise impact of the plans because one of the key pieces of data is missing. The fact that, having apparently accepted the Mill Road background noise reading at face value, the Environmental Health Officer still thinks there are noise problems with the application, indicates that the actual problems will be much worse – particularly late at night, when the units would still be running.

Obviously, noise will also be a significant factor in relation to deliveries, which the intention is to permit between 7am and 11pm. As a point of reference, we were contacted by someone who lives very close to the Tesco Express at Chesterton, who commented on the constant noise when deliveries are taking place, and the fact that the lorries arrive half an hour earlier than they can unload, which is also obviously disruptive (see Appendix A).

The Constraints of the Site

Paragraph 8.6

The planning officers say that the proposal respects the constraints of the site. Given that the proposal is to remove existing, on-site car parking while increasing demand for car parking, to place refrigeration and air conditioning units in close proximity to residential properties and to make deliveries late at night, also in close proximity to residential properties, we do not agree.

Gaps in the Report

Paragraphs 8.7-8.10

The main report is substantially incomplete, even in relation to the limited issues to which the planners have chosen to restrict their attention. The planning officers identify six main issues but fail to provide any information at all on four of them, saying that details will be available at a later date. Thus, two-thirds of the report is absent. Given the strength of public feeling and the fact that the planners had three months in which to complete the report, we consider this to be unacceptable, and we have written to the council’s Director of Environment and Planning to register a complaint about this.

Vitality and Viability

Although this is a commitment in the Local Plan and other planning guidance, and despite the fact that we raised it with the planners in writing and verbally at some length, there is no mention of it here – neither of why it applies nor why it might not. For our comments on this, please see the document on vitality and viability, which we sent separately to you.

Reasons for approval

The report says that

The decision has been made having had regard to all other material planning considerations, none of which was considered to have been of such significance as to justify doing other than grant planning permission.

It is not clear what these material considerations are, since they are not specified, but we entirely disagree that matters such as the impact on traffic congestion are not relevant. Of course, the issue of vitality and viability is a planning question with direct bearing on the application and so would not fall into this category.

It should also be noted that the case officer’s report, of which this report is supposed to be a summary (paragraph 2 of the ‘Reasons for Approval’), does not exist at the time of writing (14 January, three days before the decision on the application). We have written to the council’s Director of Environment and Planning to register a complaint about this.

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