In the council chamber at the Tory led Cornwall Council today the outcome of two planning applications were heard by the Strategic Planning Committee with two different outcomes.
Tesco's were applying to extend their store in Penzance, Tesco's have to some extent fallen foul of their own success, in that when they built the store they underestimated the popularity of the store and now need to extend, I’m sure also that they have an eye over their shoulder at the Sainsbury application, currently Tesco's are limited to the range of goods they can sell at the store, being restricted pretty much to foodstuffs, expanding would enable them to increase the range of other goods on sale (more on this later), the problem for Tescos is that the only way to expand was onto a greenfield site Ponsandane field. Penzance Town Council had voted against the application. Greenfield site building by supermarkets is always going to be a hard one to win and in due course the application was refused.
Sainsbury’s application was different, a new store on a brown field site, (I know the heliport is actually a green field) so the issues on this application are different, it may come as a surprise to some people (including a few councillors) but building a new supermarket next to an existing one are not grounds to turn down an application, that’s a commercial decision for the applicant, the main point of discussion was what the store would sell, what! you may be thinking, but what the store intends to sell is very important as it will affect its impact on town centre shopping and this may well be grounds for refusal, as mentioned above Tesco’s range of goods is restricted by size, this will not be the case with Sainsbury’s, and they wish to have a 60/40 split, that’s 60% of floor space given over to food retailing and 40% to other goods, its these other goods that have the most impact on town centres, there was a lot of discussion over the numbers with Cllr Andrew Wallis, Helston South & Porthleven, http://cllrandrewwallis.blogspot.com/, determined to get the number down to 80 – 20 which would be a very good result for the town centre, at one point asking the Sainsbury’s rep if he would be happy to lose the application by not going to this 80 – 20 split, this rather took the wind out of the rep’s sails, in the end saying he could not answer. Another area for debate was the Section 106 agreement (or planning gain) this is something negotiated with the applicant to offset their impact on the location they are building in, this had been negotiated with the applicant by officers at the Tory led Cornwall Council without any consultation with the Town Council, the information of the detail only being available to the Town Council the day before the meeting, it so happened that the town, by good luck, had a planning meeting that night, voting in favour of the application, but voicing concerns over the fact that 85% of the planning gain in value was going into a roundabout (to allow access to the store) and other highways work, not a lot of gain for the town in that. The town decided to send a member to the meeting to voice these concerns and Cllr John Pender did a very good job in presenting the towns position.
A lot of quite honestly in places poor debate followed, the problem with a single council is that a committee like this one, has many members who have very little if any knowledge of the town they are making decisions about, after 4 hours debating the two applications, Cllr Wallis proposed that the application be approved on the condition that Sainsbury’s hold discussions with the Town Council regarding the food retail split and the section 106 agreement, before the Officers had a chance to realise what was happening the resolution was passed.
Now I should say at this point that the town council was also so surprised that we have asked for a copy of the precise resolution, because if it is as detailed above it’s a landmark decision, giving the power to the town council to negotiate directly with the applicant on two very important issues, something that the towns have never had a chance to do.
I look forward to the trail of Cornwall Council officers from planning, highways and legal making their way to Penzance Town Council to watch as the Town negotiate. This will be localism in action, but not I expect as the Tory led Cornwall Council and its officers ever imagined.
Thank you Cllr A Wallis, you may have just made a precedent that will give localism its true meaning.