Speech to the East Area Committee, July 2008
Five months ago I stood here, in front of this committee, and asked you, on behalf of more than 5000 local people, to reject Tesco’s application for this site. I said to you then that the decision you made would not just determine the future of the application site itself but that it would have a wider and permanent impact on the area as a whole. Tonight, I am standing here again to ask you to reject another application for this site, and to do it, as you did last time, on solid planning grounds.
Before I talk about those planning grounds and why I think they mean that you should reject this application, I want to talk to you briefly about why I am here.
I am speaking on behalf of the more than 5000 local people who signed a petition against the opening of a Tesco Express on Mill Road. I am speaking on behalf of the 600 people who marched against it, the more than 1000 people who wrote to the council to object to this application or the ones before it, on behalf of all your constituents who have written to you to say that they oppose Tesco’s plans for the site.
But I am not just speaking to you because all those thousands of people are against something, I am speaking to you because they, we, are for something, too.
We are for the continued existence of a street where 15 grocery stores, a butcher’s, baker’s, greengrocer’s and a delicatessen can all flourish, a place that the Daily Telegraph called “perhaps Britain’s most internationally eclectic street, where food of almost every type can be bought”. We think that a local, independent shop is more than just the money that changes hands across the counter, that it also helps to create a community, where small, independent businesses can thrive, can add to the wider life of the community, can help to shape an environment in which people don’t just buy food but live and work together.
Mill Road is recognised across the city and beyond as a vibrant, diverse space – a space which matters to the wider life of the city. But it is also a vulnerable space, a fragile space, and that is why I am here tonight.
I know that you are all aware of these concerns and I also know that if they were the only grounds on which I was asking you to reject this application, then you could not do so. I understand that however strongly people feel about the effects of an application, if there are no solid planning grounds to refuse it, you have to approve.
That, as I will explain, is not the case here.
When you rejected the last application in March, you did so because of the damaging impacts that approving the proposal would have had on road safety, congestion, and on the homes around the site.
All of those problems remain with this application.
If you approve the application, it will mean, as it did last time, that the store would represent a serious risk to road safety and residential amenity. The plans to effectively remove all car parking and to make 30 deliveries a week – either by driving into oncoming traffic on Sedgwick Street or by unloading on one of the busiest and most congested roads in the city – are dangerous to pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. They will increase congestion and make it harder for local residents and businesses to park. They will make it harder for buses and emergency vehicles to get down Mill Road.
But this application wouldn’t just cause the same problems as last time, it would cause new ones, too.
Tesco have said that small Express stores, like this one, require a high volume of external storage. That means, if Tesco are right, that stacked delivery cages, large waste bins of rotting food, piles of waste for recycling, and other rubbish and store equipment would all now be kept outside, just a few metres from people’s homes, and blocking car parking on the site. We have been to the Tesco Express stores at Cherry Hinton and Chesterton and to small Express stores in London and they all confirm that this is what Tesco does with these stores, and what would happen here. Is this consistent with local planning guidance on residential amenity, or on the requirements to maintain the back of this site for car parking? Obviously, it’s not.
The planning officers say that these things aren’t relevant. They say that only the immediate impacts of the plant itself matter – the possible noise effects, the appearance of the plant, and the direct impact of installing this plant against the back wall of the building on existing car parking and waste storage facilities.
We think the planning officers are wrong, not just in some abstract sense, but in concrete planning terms. We think they are wrong because all these effects on highway safety, traffic congestion, car parking, and residential amenity are all necessary and direct consequences of approval of this application. This is because Tesco have said that they will open a store without any additional extension if you approve this application tonight. If you don’t approve, of course, no refrigeration would be possible on the site, and so the store couldn’t open.
That means that all these issues are material considerations in this case, as they were last time. It means that the application is not consistent with planning guidance, or with your decision to refuse the last application.
So, the planning officers say that none of this matters in this decision. We say, and we are clear that the planning guidance says, that they are wrong.
But let’s assume, for a moment, that they’re right.
Does thinking about the plant on its own, in complete isolation from the impacts that would follow from the opening of the store after its installation, mean that approval should be given?
No, it doesn’t. In fact, it means that the application should be refused.
Quite simply, there are no grounds for approval of this application, even if the plant is considered on its own.
Why is this?
As you know, when an application like this is made, the noise impacts have to be assessed. Local planning guidance requires that those making the decision – in this case, you – consider the potential risks of noise pollution. To do this, of course, you need to reach a judgement based on evidence of some kind. In this kind of case, the main piece of evidence takes the form of an acoustic report, which measures both the noise of the plant and the background noise of the area into which the plant would be installed. That way, the decision-makers can see how noisy the plant would sound – whether it would be a source of noise pollution and a threat to residential amenity.
Because the council does not make its own acoustic assessments of every application they receive, they rely on the acoustic assessments supplied by applicants. Specifically, they – the planning officers and councillors – rely on these acoustic assessments being accurate, they rely on the assessments being competently carried out, and they rely on the assessments meeting the requirements of local and national planning guidance in following the acoustic standards set down for these kinds of tests.
Tesco’s acoustic report does none of these things.
To take a few examples of the problems we have explained in writing, Tesco’s acoustic assessment was done in the wrong place; it left out one key part of the required procedure, which changes their results; and it introduced changes to the assessment that the acoustic standard does not allow. Their consultants have variously claimed that the same set of tests were conducted over 24 hours, 14 hours, and 8 hours (this is the same test on the same day, not separate tests on different days). Figures that were previously only estimates have suddenly become actual measurements, even when no new measurements had been taken.
What does all this mean? It means that the report cannot be treated as a reliable guide to what will happen if this plant is installed in this location. Obviously, your decision needs to be based on evidence, if it is to be consistent with planning guidance. The fact that the recommendation for approval relies entirely on a document which is not an accurate or reliable guide to the impacts of approval means that this evidence is missing.
We are not claiming that there would definitely be severe noise pollution as a result of approval and installation of this plant. We are saying that a judgement cannot be reached on the matter, as the planning guidance requires, because there is no evidence from which to arrive at such a judgement.
Approval of this application, cannot therefore, be consistent with planning guidance. This means that, in order to be consistent with planning guidance, the application must be refused.
What does all this mean? It means that if you look at the impacts of the store opening, the application should be refused. It means that if you listen to what Tesco say about their operation of smaller size Express stores, the application should be refused. It means that even if you ignore all this and just look at the plant alone, the application should be refused.
Five months ago, I stood here and asked you to refuse an application that was unsuitable for the site and was dangerous and damaging for the streets and homes around it. You did. Tonight, I am asking you, once again, to refuse an application that is not consistent with the council’s own guidance, and which contains no evidence on which approval can reasonably be given.
On their website, Tesco say that “it is important that a new store is welcomed by local people” and that they “work closely with local people to understand their issues and concerns”. For 10 months, local people have been telling Tesco that an Express store is not wanted or needed on Mill Road. For 10 months Tesco have ignored them.
But even if Tesco don’t listen to this local community, we hope that you will. On behalf of thousands of local people, I ask you to consider the proposal before you on the basis of planning guidance, and to reject this application.