As part of our ongoing planning work Birmingham Friends of the Earth responded to the application for a mixed use scheme (including a medical centre, food retail store, and sheltered residential flats) at the Meteor Ford Site, Moseley. Full Planning Application 2009/05931/PA. The concerns and suggestions that we raised in our response are in the excerpt from our letter below:
Having studied the planning documents for the above application, please find below our comments on the development.
We feel the food retail element of the proposals is contrary to PPS4, and will affect the vitality and viability of Moseley Village centre because as an edge of centre store it is of a large enough size to divert trade from the centre of Moseley Village yet too small to ‘claw back’ trade from Kings Heath or other nearby retail centres that have large (circa 10,000sq.m) supermarkets.
The developer claims in the Retail Impact Assessment that a need for the store has been identified largely because it will ‘claw back’ trade from Kings Heath, Hall Green and Small Heath where larger supermarkets already exist. At 1,386sqm (net) the retail store will only serve an immediate district catchment area and is simply not big enough to attract any meaningful market share from these areas. We feel that people will still travel to large supermarkets (ones in the region of 10,000sq.m) as these offer a vastly larger range than that on offer at either the existing Moseley Sainsbury’s and Somerfield/Co-Op, or to be offered at the proposed food retail store in this application, and so the 20% of food shopping that leaves the Moseley area will continue to do so. However, it is large enough to divert trade from the shops in the central ‘high street’ area of Moseley Village. In design terms the development is overly dense for the site itself, leaving insufficient space for parking as discussed in the Transport & Design Issues sections below.
In the Ward Committee Meeting the developer claimed that the Retail Impact Assessment found that the ‘types of high end shops in Moseley (a deli and a boulangerie) won’t be affected by a Tesco supermarket’. We find this highly unusual as there are a great many more shops in Moseley Village centre including not only a deli and boulangerie, but also sandwich shops, pharmacies, newsagents, off licenses, a wholefood shop, bakers and a flower shop. A convenience supermarket such as that proposed is very likely to sell products that directly compete with all these current shops and as such these will all be likely to suffer negative affects to a greater or lesser extent. As an example an edge of centre supermarket in Fakenham diverted between 3.7 to 18.9% of trade from existing comparison retailers. Overall this will undoubtedly affect the vitality of the existing village retail core, and is likely to negatively affect Moseley’s “local consumer choice and the range and quality of the comparison and convenience retail offer” which is a PPS4 impact factor.
In addition to this negative effect on the smaller independent shops, a convenience supermarket at the application site is likely to lure existing customers away from the existing Sainsbury’s and Somerfield/Co-Op as it will be of a sufficiently larger size, but will also have the advantage of easy access for private car use along with its associated car park. The existing Sainsbury’s and Somerfield/Co-Op supermarkets (regardless of the public views of their operators) have been established within the retail centre of Moseley for many years, and as a result of their limited size and intermingled location succeed in complementing the other smaller shops around them, with shoppers making significant linked trips to these businesses. These stores therefore provide a certain ‘anchoring’ element to the retail core. If customers are pulled away from these ‘anchor’ stores then resultant linked trips to the other shops in the retail centre will be lost. The Retail Impact Assessment is in our opinion too simplistic in its analysis of the retail core and touches little on the more complicated relationship of these linked trips. We would urge the council to insist on a more in depth study of the retail environment in Moseley Village and would also insist on its full scrutiny by an independent body to ensure its accuracy.
The developer claims that the proposed retail store is located within the centre of Moseley, however anyone with a good local knowledge of the area is more than aware that the retail core finishes at the last outlet before St. Mary’s Church, and that the gap between this and the Meteor Ford site means that the latter is beyond the retail core and hence should be classified as ‘edge of centre’. As a consequence of this fact any linked trips would would be minimal, and therefore have little positive affect on existing businesses. This disconnection with the real centre would be further by the exacerbated by the additional traffic generated by the proposed development, turning St. Mary’s Row and Oxford Road into barriers also. Moseley already has a public car park, but this situated to the rear of the Junction pub/St. Mary’s Row shops (and is indeed nearer to the retail centre than the Meteor Ford site), and is considered to be ‘too far’ from the primary shopping area by many shoppers, and we feel this illustrates how the village centre currently works. This is contrary to PPS4 as outlined in the practice guidance at 6.2 and at 7.22.
There is therefore a significant risk that a loss in shops and a resultant creation of ‘voids’ on the high street would ensue and this too would further affect the centre’s viability. In addition convenience goods shopping is not an expanding market, so a new store of the scale proposed is only likely to survive by cannibalising business from existing shops, including the existing Sainsbury’s and Somerfield/Co-Op supermarkets. If one of these existing ‘anchor’ stores were to shut as a result of a loss of custom to its proposed ‘edge of centre’ competitor, then this would result in a large and very significant void appearing in the centre of the retail core, which is not only undesirable, but would also be very damaging to the vitally important linked shopping trips that the remainder of shops rely upon. This would simply put even more negative pressure on the retail core, with the jeopardising of these existing and established retail stores being contrary to PPS4’s recognition of the value of retail ‘anchors’.
The developer has also claimed in the Ward Committee Meeting that if the local population kept frequenting our independent shops, they would survive. Evidence shows that even a small, just 5% or less, diversion of trade from independent shops can cause their failure, by which time it is often to late to rescue them.
Local knowledge is backed up by definitions in PPS4 in identifying the Meteor Ford site as ‘edge of centre’ rather than being within Moseley Centre as such; this relating particularly to the issue of distance and barriers mentioned above, and the size of the existing centre, which is very small indeed in relation to the distance between the proposed development and the core retail area of Moseley Village. It is obvious that this is exactly the sort of site that the policy is intended to identify as ‘edge’ rather than ‘in-centre’. PPS4 requires exceptional circumstances for supermarket development at edge of centre sites, particularly when there are other, more in-centre sites available. The developer claims that the parade of shops on Wake Green Road marks the edge of Moseley’s retail core, but it is clear this is an independent self sustaining cluster of shops that more than adequately serves the needs of the Eastern portion of the Wake Green residential area. Indeed if there was a lack of choice or there was a sustained shortage of retail property within the core retail area, then a case could be made to expand this. However, there are still a number of persistent vacant units and empty sites within the high street that mean any expansion is unjustified.
If the application is somehow assumed to comply with PPS 4 then careful use should be made of the following policy to ensure that negative impacts are mitigated: “Policy EC19.1d) Local planning authorities should make effective use of planning conditions to implement their policies and proactively manage the impacts of development by imposing planning conditions to: “limit the range of goods sold, and to control the mix of convenience and comparison goods”. There would also be a need for planning conditions on parking to ensure that the centre is not further weakened (and the proposed site overwhelmed – as mentioned in the Transport Issues section below) by free parking at the proposed food retail store. However, we are very definitely of the opinion that such conditions would not mitigate sufficiently against the likely negative impacts, and very importantly all the evidence shows that this scheme is not supported by PPS4.
Generally there is a contradiction from the developer, in that it is claimed the store is big enough to ‘claw back’ trade from other local centres, but it is small enough not to have a negative impact on the existing retail businesses in Moseley Village centre.
Parking Provision & Traffic Generation
Given the size of the development it would appear that car parking provision is incredibly low, having only 103 spaces for the whole development, with 83 for the retail element and 15 for the health centre, with the remaining 5 for the sheltered residential accommodation. A figure of 170 car parking spaces has been given as a maximum number for the development under planning policy, but the proposed provision represents only 60% of this number, which we feel will be inadequate for the uses and location.
There are no spaces allocated for visitors to the sheltered housing, which is likely to be required with visits by family and friends, especially at evenings and weekends when the retail unit is expected to be most busy. The spaces allocated to the various uses also seem difficult to manage effectively, given that they are lumped together in one car park. Whilst it is claimed that this gives flexibility (which is true to a certain extent), it could also result in the sheltered housing and medical centre spaces being improperly used for retail customers.
The size of the retail food store is such that it is intended to be of a larger size than that of Sainsbury’s and Somerfield/Co-Op which are located in the centre of Moseley Village. Because of it being a larger store in which it is intended customers will use trolleys for their purchases (evidenced by the trolley parks on site and the developer’s verbal confirmation of this at the Ward Committee Meeting), customers would likely be shopping for larger amounts of goods and would therefore be more likely to drive to the store in order to carry these goods away. In addition, given the store’s provision of car parking (which is not available at the existing Sainsbury’s and Somerfield/Co-Op) and edge of centre location, it is more likely that people will drive to this store rather than the other supermarkets, and hence the ‘clawing’ of trade from these other stores would result in the generation of more traffic to the proposed store than would normally be expected.
Because of these issues it is therefore likely that the level of expected use of walking, cycling and public transport will be lower than is argued, and indeed given easy accessibility of the site for car based shoppers, it can also be expected to generate a significant volume of ‘pass by’ trade from commuters in their cars on their way to and from work, many of which may not actually live in the locality. Whilst the effect of ‘pass by’ traffic appears to have been factored into the transport assessment for the modeling of traffic in relation to junctions, etc., it is inadequate in terms of its relation to parking numbers or where parking will realistically happen. Given the location of the proposed car park at the rear of the building and access from a side street, much of this ‘pass by’ traffic would be expected to simply park on St. Mary’s Row or in the lay by which serves the adjacent parade of shops. As this parking is currently limited there is a greater likelihood of increased amounts of illegal parking on St. Mary’s Row and Oxford Road, including on yellow lines and pavements as people ‘drop in’ to buy a few essential items. This would lead to greater traffic disruption and congestion, as well as a greater loss of amenity for local residents and a reduction in road safety in the area.
The transport assessment argues a lower parking provision is justifiable based on it’s accessible location and access to public transport. However as can be seen from the above comments this is not likely to be the case, and analysis of these more complex issues seems to be wholly absent from the study. In addition, the transport assessment also cites the reopening of Moseley train station as a means to reduce parking provision. This is factored into the assessment for opening in 2014, although the only possible dates currently being quoted by Birmingham City Council and Centro are for 2017 at the earliest, and the developer stated verbally at the Ward Committee Meeting that he had spoken to Network Rail and it was not on their anticipated program at all. Again with this matter there is contradiction from the developer; the imminent opening of the station is used in the transport assessment to justify a reduced car parking provision, but the fact it is not known when or if this will happen is used as a rebuttal to concerns over the combined adverse traffic impacts generated from both the new station and this proposed development.
We have additional concerns regarding the wider impacts of increased traffic on the area, and whilst this has been included to a certain extent in the Transport Assessment, we do not feel it covers all the scenarios. The signalisation of the St. Mary’s Row and Oxford Road junction, whilst intended to mitigate the increased traffic generation, could also have the effect of creating an easy short cut from King’s Heath out onto St. Mary’s Row in order to avoid the right turn at the junction of Alcester Road and St. Mary’s Row. This would result in additional traffic using Oxford Road and the connecting School Road and would undermine the traffic calming work carried out as part of the South Birmingham Study. Whilst new phases are intended to be added to the Alcester Road traffic lights for St. Mary’s Row and Salisbury Road, there is no such provision for right turning from Alcester Road. The addition of extra phases in the traffic light program may also reduce time available for the Alcester Road phases resulting in additional queues and congestion. There are also questions as to whether additional traffic phases would either reduce the number of pedestrian phases, or greatly increase the wait times between the pedestrian phases. These pedestrian phases are vital to links across this busy junction and any negative affect on these could have a resultant impact on local businesses.
We have significant concerns over the levels of extra traffic that will be generated as a result of this development and would highlight the figures given in tables 8.12 and 8.17 contained within the Transport Assessment.
Figures in table 8.12 are for the expected traffic generation from the proposed health centre in comparison to the existing health centre, and this table uses numbers of car journeys. However if one is to convert these into percentage changes then this gives us at the AM peak a figure of between 740% (32 extra trips) and 840% (37 extra trips) – a very significant increase, whilst the PM peak figure is between 45% (12 less trips) – a reduction, and 146% (10 extra trips) – a considerable increase.
Figures in table 8.17 are for the expected traffic generation from the proposed retail store over what the current permitted use of the site would be likely to generate. Again this table uses numbers of car journeys, but if one is to convert these into percentage changes a more worrying picture appears. AM peak gives us a figure of 203% (35 extra trips), and the PM peak a figure of 342% (92 extra trips) – both very significant increases.
With regard to the Transport Assessment as a whole we are very concerned at the portrayal of the figures, as the report does not consistently use plain numbers or percentages, but flips back and forth between these in order to present the least alarming statistics and thus potentially hide the “adverse impact” (as stated in the Transport Assessment) this development will have on traffic and the amenity of local residents. We would therefore urge that the Transport Assessment is rewritten to shown both numerical and percentage figures for all data for the sake of transparency, and would also insist on its full scrutiny by an independent body to ensure its accuracy.
The design for the use of a large 5 axle articulated lorry for deliveries to the retail store also has significant issues off site. The car park and servicing area is accessed from Oxford Road, a residential street, and we would argue that such a vehicle is wholly unsuitable for use on this street, and there is nothing to stop delivery lorries arriving from the South along Oxford Road in addition to St. Mary’s Row.
As a result of the need for such a large delivery vehicle the mouth of the Oxford Road junction with St. Mary’s Row has been redesigned to be wider with larger kerb radii. This redesign would therefore make the junction more difficult to cross by pedestrians as their visibility would be reduced, and wider kerb radii allows traffic to enter Oxford Road at a higher speed than currently, thus resulting in a reduction in safety at this junction and along Oxford Road. This approach is in complete contradiction of the Manual for Streets sections 6.3.13 & 6.3.14, which states that junctions with residential side streets should be designed with reduced kerb radii to slow traffic entering them and increase pedestrian visibility, and therefore improve safety. The provision of a traffic light controlled crossing as mitigation is not a substitute for poor highway design, and the proposals take pedestrians significantly off their desire line. Guidance is giving in section 12.3.13 of the Manual for Streets’
We are also unsure as to why a left turn lane is required from St. Mary’s Row into Oxford Road. Oxford Road is not a street that suffers from traffic queuing in the South direction, unless of course this is in anticipation of traffic ‘backing up’ from the proposed car park. Again this would suggest that the store is simply too large and aims to attract more car borne customers from a wider area, rather than the local population as is claimed.
In addition the splitting of St. Mary’s Row with a pedestrian refuge also encourages faster traffic speeds by removing the need for drivers to negotiate other traffic and alienates pedestrians by forcing them to cross two separate flows of traffic, usually on separate non sequenced phases. The inclusion of pedestrian guard rails has also been proven to increase vehicle speeds, and where these have been removed (such as in the London Borough of Kensington) collisions involving pedestrians has been dramatically reduced. Section 10.2.9 of the Manual for Streets states: “Guard railing should not be provided unless a clear need for it has been identified. Introducing measures to reduce traffic flows and speeds may be helpful in removing the need for guard railing”.
A further justification for the provision of a crossing at the location shown is to help link the on street national cycle route that runs along Church Road and Oxford Road. Currently the proposals would apparently have cyclists dismount at Church Road, walk down St. Mary’s Row, cross via the pedestrian crossing, walk into Oxford Road before remounting their bicycle to continue their journey. If the proposals were serious about linking Church and Oxford Roads then St. Mary’s Row would be narrowed between the two streets and this road space turned over to fully segregated cycle lanes which would allow cyclists to complete their journey without having to dismount.
Site Design Issues
We note that the swept path drawings for the proposed highway works indicate that a 5 axle articulated lorry is anticipated to service the retail portion of the proposed development, and this was confirmed verbally by the developer at the Ward Committee Meeting. The need for such a large vehicle is related to the size of the food store and the restrictions that are placed upon deliveries, the latter having to be when the car park is least busy as there is not enough room to adequately turn the vehicle when this is full. This again indicates that the store is far too large for the site if such ‘operational juggling’ is required. The out of peak hours deliveries (between 06:00 and 07:00 in the morning) will also have significant noise disturbance issues for the surrounding homes, with a large HGV manoeuvring within the site, the unloading of trollies and pallets of goods, as well as the constant drone of the lorry’s refrigeration unit. Due to the design of the site this will all be in very close proximity of residential garden boundaries and properties themselves.
Due to the large footprint of the proposed buildings and therefore the car parking provision required to serve them, there is very little room left on the site for the car parking itself. It has therefore been necessary to squeeze every last square metre out of the remaining site to accommodate this car parking, and as a result there is practically no buffer space allowed for around the boundaries of the car park. Given that these are boundaries to residential gardens, this proximity of car parking will have a profoundly negative effect upon the amenity of the users of these gardens. They will be subject to noise and air pollution from vehicle movements, which will be substantial given the ‘come and go’ nature of the proposed uses, as well as occasional impacts with their boundary walls and fences. Whilst the previous use of the site used this area as car parking in a similar manner, this was of a much more ‘static’ nature with much less ‘come and go’ traffic. Green walls are shown on the plans around many of the boundaries, but these are not given a realistic thickness; these need either a ground planting zone to support the roots of climbing plants, or a substantial make up thickness to form an integral growing medium for the likes of heathers and succulents.
What planting beds are shown are simply not viable as once below ground level wall foundations and concrete hunching to kerbs would intrude significantly into the space preventing all but the smallest plants from growing in the meagre amount of soil, let alone the very optimistic trees and large shrubs shown. This problem is particularly acute in the far ‘leg’ element of the car park, which is sandwiched between residential gardens, and where if a realistic planting buffer of at least 1 metre (exclusive of boundary treatments and kerb construction) all the way round were left, then this element of the car park is completely unviable due to its size.
In addition, given the ‘come and go’ nature of the proposed uses, the car park design features a significant length of ‘dead end’ along the far ‘leg’ of the car park, as well as numerous other shorter ‘dead ends’, and has no loops within the car park circulation area in order to allow cars to turn around without reversing. As a consequence cars waiting for others to manoeuvre (potentially reversing significant distances) or finding themselves at the far end of a full car park, they would have difficulty turning around to re-traverse or exit the car park, especially if queues of cars are forming behind. Such internal car park congestion could easily back up and cause queues to form on Oxford Road and St. Mary’s Row. Furthermore agitated drivers trapped in a grid locked car park could soon find themselves sounding their horns in frustration, causing addition noise disturbance to adjacent residential homes and residents.
Overall it is obvious that this design has simply been an exercise in ‘shoehorning’, and clearly shows that these proposals constitute over development.
There are also issues of personal safety with regard to users of the car park. The buildings are arranged so that the proposed upper floor residential units do not overlook the car park, and due to the requirement to maximise shelf space within the retail store there are no windows other than the entrance doors to allow overlooking of the car park. As such there is little or no natural surveillance of the car park from the proposed buildings, which is made worse by the awkward ‘C’ shape layout of the car parking area, which would prevent views from the buildings to the far reaches of the car park. In a vein effort to reduce the impact of noise and pollution on the adjoining residential gardens, high walls and fences are proposed which will even result in the blocking of any natural surveillance from the existing surrounding properties. The need for the gating off of the far reaches of the ‘leg’ portion of the car park only makes clearer the inherent personal safety design flaws within this scheme.
Planning Policy Future
Moseley’s Big Plan is in currently in preparation and given that local plans for the area are now considered out of date with both the situation on the ground and recent national planning policy, it would seem sensible to adhere to local feeling and the principles of the council’s Statement of Community Involvement to ensure no such schemes are permitted until the Moseley Big Plan has been finalised, so that applications can be tested genuinely against community and local authority approved plans, as well as national policy best practice.
As the proposals currently stand we believe that the application should be refused on the grounds that it will have a large negative impact on the local economy, traffic congestion, road safety, environmental pollution and residents amenity. We would urge the council to insist upon a complete redesign of the proposals, including more compatible alternatives to the food retail store. We would also wish you to ensure that any new proposals are designed around the planning policy and local situations highlighted above, rather than attempting to fit policy around a flawed scheme which seems to be the case here.