FAQs about Tesco losing the planning decision (March 2008)


On March 6 2008, the Council’s East Area Committee (councillors for Romsey, Petersfield, Abbey and Coleridge wards) voted on Tesco’s applications for the old Wilco site at 163-167 Mill Road.

Tesco lost. Here’s how and why.

Tesco applied for three things: to be allowed to build an extension, to install a cash machine in the front of the shop and to put up a couple of signs. The councillors have said that they can install a cash machine and put up a sign (although they can’t switch the sign on unless the shop is open).

But the councillors also said that they couldn’t build an extension. All seven councillors voted to refuse the extension. They also voted to contest Tesco’s appeal against the fact that the last application wasn’t decided in the normal time period (called a “non-determination appeal”).

1. Why did the councillors all vote against the plans for an extension?

There were a couple of reasons. Firstly, local planning guidance 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” This application didn’t – they can’t extend the building and still do all this.

Secondly, they said that there was no way of safely making deliveries to the site because the type of deliveries that this kind of store would need – at least 30 of them a week, half of them in 10 metre lorries. There is nowhere for them to make deliveries like that. The traffic problems that the store would cause if the extension was built “would seriously prejudice the safety and free flow of traffic on the public highway”.

2. What does the councillors’ vote mean?

It means that Tesco can’t open a Tesco Express on this site.

3. Why? Haven’t they said that they can open the store anyway, without an extension?

By a funny coincidence, their spokesman has suddenly started saying that since they lost the vote! But the people who actually designed the proposed store told both us and the council planners that the store couldn’t open without the extension. No extension = no Tesco. They are apparently denying that they ever said this now, but we have it in writing.

4. Why couldn’t they open the store without the extension?

Tesco said at the planning meeting that they wouldn’t open a store if it couldn’t make a profit. It can’t make a profit if there is too little floor space.

Tesco told council planners in writing that they couldn’t open a store on this site without the extension they asked for because of the nature of the site – its size and its position on the street. They said that even if all the rubbish, recycling and delivery cages were stored outside the existing store (which they have been told they are not allowed to do), the store would still be too small for them to operate.

5. But the site was big enough to be a shop before, so why can’t Tesco just use the same space as Wilco?

Because they are different types of shop. Tesco said that they needed an extension 36% the size of the existing building so that they could install things like a bakery area and refrigerators to store their stock. Wilco is a car accessories and cycle store – you don’t need bakeries and refrigerators to sell car seat covers and driving gloves.

6. So why are Tesco saying that they will open anyway?

Because they are trying to spin a really embarrassing defeat. They lost two planning applications in four days (this one and one in Macclesfield) and they are worried that their luck has finally run out.

They have to go through with the non-determination appeal they lodged. So they are trying to improve their chances by making the council and local people think that there’s no point in putting up a fight because they will just open anyway. This is untrue.

7. So what happens with the appeal?

Tesco put in the same applications last year. In January, the council planning officers produced a report recommending approval but it was so flawed that the planning department itself withdrew it, meaning that councillors couldn’t vote on it.

At that point Tesco complained to the Planning Inspectorate, saying it had taken too long (of course, that might have been something to do with the extra information Tesco kept sending the planning officers while they were trying to write their report). They also submitted identical plans for the council to vote on in March. This was because they wanted two shots at winning approval for the extension – from the council and from the Planning Inspectorate.

The result is that even though the council have told Tesco that they can’t have the extension they would need to open the store, Tesco are asking the Planning Inspectorate to let them build the extension because the council didn’t decide on the application quickly enough.

All the councillors voted to contest the appeal on the same grounds that they turned down the second application for an extension. This means that they will tell the Planning Inspectorate that the extension and its consequences are inconsistent with planning guidance.

Of course, the No Mill Road Tesco Campaign will be objecting to Tesco’s appeal, too.

8. Tesco will win, won’t they?

No, we think that’s very unlikely. From the way that Tesco are behaving, they seem to think it’s unlikely, too!

Several of the councillors on the committee that turned down the request for an extension are planning experts, and all are experienced in planning matters. They wouldn’t have refused the application if they didn’t have rock solid planning grounds to do it. We don’t think that the Planning Inspectorate are going to tell Cambridge Council that they have to break their own (and national government) planning rules.

9. So what’s next?

Stopping Tesco opening a store here has always been only one part of the picture. So, we are objecting to Tesco’s appeal. But we are also taking part in wider community discussions about how we all – local residents, community groups, local traders, faith groups, the politicians who represent us – can work together to revitalise the area.

Together, we want to make the Mill Road area an even better place to live, work and shop. The councillors have got this off to a great start by refusing a dangerous and damaging proposal by Tesco. The rest is up to all of us!

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