Last month brought the sad news that the Tesco application for an out of centre site in Moseley was approved – by a single vote – after it had previously been rejected by councillors. Ian Ward, Labour, voted against the rest of his party in approving it, making the votes even, and then the chair’s vote carried it.
The application is for a Tesco, sheltered housing, surgery and parking on land previously siting a garage. Anyone who knows Moseley will know that this site is not within the centre. People parking and shopping there will be much more reluctant to additionally ‘pop into the village’.
The retail need assessment for Moseley on which the decision was made was thoroughly out of date, being put together in 2005 when the only supermarket in the centre was a rather run-down Kwiksave. When the second supermarket was approved in Moseley, it seemed conceivable that the shop would strengthen the centre – although in fact more food shops have closed since. But that supermarket was right in Moseley’s centre. This one, with its inadequate but doubtless appealing closer parking, could lead to the closure of one of the supermarkets in the centre, and will certainly reduce what they call ‘linked trips’ when people nip into the independents after completing their supermarket shop. It is easy to see that the opening of this supermarket will lead to a net loss of jobs and a loss of Moseley vitality.
The u-turn by councillors may have resulted from the public threats made by the developer’s lawyers and aired in the Birmingham Post, that refusal would incur a ‘huge legal bill’. The Asda recently turned down in Shirley faced similar bullying tactics and is now going to appeal – though the case should be good to get it rejected at appeal too. Supermarkets bully local government as well as their suppliers.
We suspect there were strong enough grounds on need and impact to reject the Tesco application if officers had had any will to do so, and there may well be a local appetite for judicial review. But to win future battles we need our local plan to contain the right policies that protect local enterprise and centre vitality. Birmingham’s local plan – the Core Strategy, rather than the planning application stage, is the most important place to start for anyone who cares about what is built in their community. One consultation stage on our Core Strategy has just finished. Birmingham FOE members worked hard on a response that included detailed suggestions for better policies on retail, economic development, energy efficiency and generation, housing and transport. Retail-wise we have been recommending, for example, policies that any even average sized retail development that is edge- or out-of-centre, or not in accordance with an up-to-date plan, should be subject to a full impact assessment; protection of food access (food shopping within walking distance); and restriction on developments that would adversely impact on traditional and farmers’ markets.
There are big changes afoot in planning. A ‘presumption in favour of development’ could make it close to impossible to refuse anything on the grounds of its impact on local centres, unless there are very strong policies in the local plan – hence the importance of engaging with the Core Strategy. Even the proposals for Neighbourhood Planning seem to do little to protect and everything to abandon. Going back to Moseley, over the last two years the community have been working on a Big Plan, very like the proposed Neighbourhood Plans. Moseley’s big plan was perfectly clear that an out-of-centre Tesco was unwanted, inappropriate, a waste of land and of economic development opportunity. One has to wonder if neighbourhood plans will prove about as effective, even if communities are sufficiently empowered, time- and money-rich to develop them.