Opinion piece for ‘Local Secrets’

On Saturday morning, two days after the Council’s East Area Committee voted unanimously to refuse Tesco’s application to build an extension at the back of the old Wilco site, I did my usual round of the half-dozen Mill Road shops that provide almost everything my household of five people needs.

It was early, not yet busy, and I was able to stop and talk with a couple of the people who run the shops, who have become friends over the years. They were pleased about the decision of course, but rightly concerned that this was far from the end of the matter. At last, one of them said, “the campaign’s done a good job, but Tesco will win in the end”.

Some of the coverage of the Council’s decision gives the impression that Tesco has won already. Tesco told one local newspaper that they “could open the store tomorrow”.

This is how Tesco works, with spin and distortion which wears people down with the nagging fear that their eventual victory is inevitable.

But it isn’t. The people who actually designed the proposed store told the council planners that the store couldn’t open without the extension.

No extension = No Tesco.

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.

And the same reasons which led the council to reject this application to extend the store will apply equally to any future application.

Local planning guidance says “the extension of existing buildings will be permitted if they […] retain sufficient amenity space, bin storage, vehicular access and car and cycle parking”. Tesco can’t extend the building and still do all this.

Secondly, the councillors said there was no way of safely making deliveries to the site. Tesco has said the site will need 30 deliveries a week, half of them in 10 metre lorries. (The true figure, based on deliveries to the Tesco Express in Cherry Hinton, is likely to be a lot higher.)

Tesco’s own figures suggest that each delivery takes around 40 minutes, meaning Mill Road would be blocked by large lorries for long periods several times a day.

In a clear –and typical- attempt to subvert local democracy, Tesco has gone over the heads of the Council, and appealed to the Planning Inspectorate to let them build the extension, because the council didn’t decide on the application quickly enough.

But all the councillors voted to contest this appeal on the same grounds that they turned down the application for an extension. This means that they will tell the Planning Inspectorate that the extension is inconsistent with planning guidance.

So will Tesco win in the end? We don’t think so.

Several of the councillors on the committee 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.

And we don’t think that the Planning Inspectorate is going to tell Cambridge Council that they have to break their own (and national government) planning rules.

Tesco has lost, and they will lose any future attempts on the same grounds.

Tesco has had one success however, which certainly wasn’t intended. It has helped to create a strongerMill Road community, with a clearer sense of its own identity. Or as one shopkeeper said: “I will say that all this has really brought us traders together.”

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