Tesco Express refusals – some previous cases
As you know, we have identified a number of planning issues which we think give more than enough grounds for refusal of these applications. Underlying many of them are a number of fundamental concerns about the serious impact that the proposed store will have on the Mill Road area – these include concerns about highway safety, congestion, and the impact on the vitality and viability of the area.
In the process of researching this case, we have discovered that – not surprisingly – exactly the same concerns have been raised in other part of the UK. In a number of cases, concerns about vitality and viability and/or traffic and safety concerns have resulted in councils rejecting planning applications by Tesco. Since this is obviously of relevance to the Mill Road applications – not least because we (and you) have been told so often, and entirely incorrectly, that these concerns are not relevant – we have compiled a sample list of cases where they have been given as key grounds for refusal.
There are three points to note about this list:
- All the cases summarised here are cases involving applications by Tesco for Express format stores. We have excluded cases involving applications for larger stores (the well-known, recent Sheringham case, for example) since they could not realistically be described as comparable with, and thus as precedents for, the Mill Road application. These refusals show that concerns regarding highway safety, traffic congestion, and vitality and viability are, and should be, considered relevant to proposals for convenience-size stores.
- This is not an exhaustive list. As you know, we are volunteers; most of us have full time jobs and all of us have heavy demands on our time. We have not, therefore, had time to expand our research in the way that we would ideally have wished. As a result, there are almost certainly other cases, not listed or referred to here which could be included. This is a matter that the planning officers may wish to investigate.
- All of the cases listed here have occurred in the last year. This suggests that attitudes are staring to change in relation to the seemingly relentless takeover of shopping areas by ‘big four’-owned convenience stores. We suspect that this is because, several years on from the decision of Tesco and the other supermarket giants’ to move into the convenience sector, councils now have experience of the damage that these stores can cause – damage to their shopping centres and to highway safety.
Tesco proposed to build a Tesco Express on the site of a former patrol station in Darlington. They said – as they have said here – that it would be “a small local store” to meet existing need in the area. In May 2007, councillors voted to reject the plans, although planning officers had recommended acceptance. Tesco then resubmitted plans for the site. In December 2007, councillors voted to refuse the application again, this time after the planning officers recommended rejection. As reported in the local press, grounds for refusal given by Darlington’s planning officers included:
- the fact that Tesco had failed to demonstrate need for the proposed store;
- the fact that the opening of the store would lead to the closure of other local shops, thus reducing consumer choice;
- the increased traffic that it would generate.
This refusal took place in mid-December 2007. Tesco put the site up for sale in early January 2008.
Tesco’s latest application to build an Express store on the site of a former petrol station on Unthank Road, Norwich was rejected by councillors in January 2008, although the planning officers recommended approval. The applications were refused on the grounds that
- the proposed store would pose a threat to highway safety and
- the lack of parking spaces would increase traffic congestion in the area.
Planning officers appear to have maintained their view that the proposal should be approved, although they have provided grounds for refusal, at the request of the councillors. It should be noted, however, that their reasons for this view appear to rest to a large degree on the fact that car use – with the attendant issues of congestion and safety, the reasons for refusal – was unlikely to be significantly greater than when the site was occupied by a petrol station.
The fact that councillors do think that even a comparatively small Tesco store (slightly smaller than the one proposed for Mill Road) would pose a greater risk to highway safety than, and would represent an increase in congestion from, a petrol station is striking. One of Labour Councillors on the committee noted that “we did think there was definitely a traffic danger to the public”. One of the County Councillors for an adjacent ward registered concern that the planning officers appeared unwilling to provide the case for refusal, as requested by the councillors; he clearly regarded this as a challenge to the democratic process.
In June 2007, on the advice of planning officers, Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council Planning Committee refused an application by Tesco to build an Express store on a site occupied by a petrol station and a furniture store. Refusal was recommended on the grounds that:
- The significant increase in activity on the site that a Tesco Express would generate would be detrimental to the amenity of neighbouring residential properties;
- The proposal did not make suitable provision for the servicing of the store and would thus pose a threat to highway safety.
- The store would increase traffic, negatively affecting highway safety.
There are a number of aspects of this case that we think are of particular relevance both to the Mill Road case in general and specifically to the planning officers’ assertions (in their responses to the original application) that all stores should be regarded as alike when considering the issue of deliveries and car parking. Importantly, the Sefton planning officers stated that
In many circumstances the reduction in floorspace and change of use from a mixed use site to a single use would result in a reduction of activity. However, in this case the nature of the existing use is low key and the proposal by Tesco would represent a significant intensification which would be likely more impact on adjoining residents. This is particularly the case when combined with a significant increase in hours of opening. Levels of activity are presently very low whereas a Tesco Express might be reasonably expected to generate significantly more trade. [...] The servicing arrangement would be unsuitable for a food store (which needs a lot more deliveries than a furniture store) and the almost total lack of parking would be untenable.
All of these issues – a substantial expected increase in activity from existing/previous low levels, a very significant extension of opening hours, a huge increase in deliveries, and much greater demand for car parking – are all key concerns in the Mill Road case. We are interested in that fact that the planning officers in Sefton not only recognised the existence of these issues, which the report on the Mill Road applications explicitly refuses to do, but that they considered them relevant to a decision to reject the application. It is worth noting, moreover, that the Sefton site, which was occupied by a petrol station as well as a non-food shop (thus, a shop which might be considered comparable to Wilco), must reasonably be expected to have attracted significantly more traffic than the Mill Road Wilco store – not least because the customers for the petrol station would necessarily have arrived by car. Even so, and in contrast to the Norwich case, the planning officers expected a convenience-size Tesco store to attract more traffic than a petrol station and furniture store combined.
In December 2007, Manchester City Council Planning Committee voted to uphold an earlier refusal of an application to build a Tesco Express on the site of a petrol station in Chorlton, South Manchester. Using a tactic familiar to us all, Tesco lodged an appeal against non-determination before the vote on the application was held. Councillors were clearly not intimidated, however, since despite this manoeuvre and despite the fact that planning officers recommended acceptance, councillors voted to refuse on the grounds:
- that the proposal would by reason of the level of activity on the site constitute overdevelopment;
- that there would be an adverse impact of the retail character of Chorlton and that it
- would raise problems in terms of highway and pedestrian safety.
In January 2008, council officers recommended refusal of an application by Tesco to convert a hire centre in Preston to an Express store. According to the local press, the reasons for recommending refusal were that
- The application made inadequate provision for parking;
- The application would have an “adverse impact on the vitality and viability of nearby local centres and retail provision”.
Although the application itself is slightly different from the Mill Road case, because it involves a change of use, both of these reasons for refusing permission for the application for a Tesco Express are directly comparable – the proposed end product of the application – a Tesco Express store – is the same even if the starting point – a hire centre rather than a car and cycle discount accessories store – is different. The impact on vitality and viability and the lack of adequate parking provision are, in Preston as in Mill Road, a function of the proposed store, irrespective of the prior business.
An application for a Tesco Express was turned down on vitality and viability grounds. Tesco appealed this decision but in April 2007 the planning inspectorate upheld the council’s refusal on vitality and viability grounds. This has been described as a landmark decision; we understand that councillors making the decision on the Chorlton application expressed their unhappiness with the fact that their planning officers had failed to alert them to this precedent. Please see our original objection document and/or our separate document on vitality and viability for more details of this case.
All of these cases show that applications for Tesco Express stores can be turned down on some of the main grounds on which we oppose the Mill Road proposal. Threats to highway safety and to the vitality and viability of existing shopping centres have been regarded as serious enough problems to refuse applications across the country. In the case of Barnet at least, the Planning Inspectorate have upheld refusal on these grounds; in the case of Darlington, a clear refusal on the part of councillors, with the eventual support of planning officers, has led to Tesco giving up its plans and putting the site up for sale. These are real grounds for refusal and where there councillors and planning officers are committed to defending such refusal, it is possible to successfully protect communities from the threats that Tesco Express can pose.