A number of people have asked me about the Tescos application decided by our Planning Committee on Monday night. There have already been several blogs from local contributors about this with several viewpoints namely:-
Left of Lightwater – local resident attending the meeting
Cllr Tim Dodds – who spoke as the local member
Cllr Stuart Macleod – who wasn’t at the meeting but is the local SCC member.
All of them make a number of valid and interesting points which I won’t repeat but would encourage you to read.
However, some have asked for my personal view on the committee decision and this goes as follows:
Firstly, it is important to understand that councillors can only take into account planning matters. One of the key concerns from residents was that they were worried that Tescos might impact on other traders. Issues around competition and that it was Tescos are not matters that can be taken into account and councillors rightly ignored this in their final decision.
Secondly, the Planning Inspector considered the previous application when Tescos appealed. Their findings are crucial as whilst they refused the application, they only did so on the grounds of highway safety. They also commented that concerns about the impact of residential amenity could be dealt with by condition (i.e. restrict opening hours) but gave no comment about what these hours could be.
Therefore, although the local community might have a variety of concerns, the committee cannot reasonably go against the findings of the Planning Inspector. To do so would very likely result in an appeal finding with an applicant and a costs order.
Now the Committee rightly in my view focused their discussion on the two issues of residential amenity and highway safety and there were some excellent contributors. In essence, the committee’s view was that the highway safety objections have not been overcome by the proposed changes for example such as parking, access and the sight lines.
Unlike some local bloggers, I do think that the Council have a arguable case here even against officer advice and with no SCC Highways objection. It should be remembered that this was the same situation as the first application which was also recommended for approval. If Tescos appeal, the Inspector will have to decide whether the application has overcome the previous Inspector concerns or not.
If the Inspector agrees with Tescos, then the application will pass and possibly with costs if the Inspector believes that the Council have been unreasonable (this would be harsh). However, if they agree with the Council, then this application fails. Tescos can then submit a further application making minor changes to highway safety and continue doing so until it is either passed or they give up trying.
Unfortunately, the committee in my view messed up the other issue of residential amenity. I did try to impress upon them (as did Cllr Tim Dodds earlier in the meeting) that there was a need to consider reducing the opening hours condition to more suitable times (perhaps 8am to 8pm and 9am to 5pm on Sundays/bank holidays). This could and should have been done before taking a vote on the amended application and whether to refuse on the grounds of highway safety. Many councillors were rightly concerned about the times and potential disturbance of vehicles to local residents and the officer even suggested that they could make alternatives to this condition but none of the actual committee members did so.
Sadly, the final decision was that the refusal (as I recall) was just against highway safety. What that means is the Council have not refused or amended the proposed opening hours in the officer report. This means that even if Tescos lose any appeal on highway safety, the Committee appear to have confused themselves and inadvertedly decided that all other aspects were fine so cannot amend at a later stage. Therefore the principle of early morning and late evening deliveries and the opening times has in effect been agreed which is clearly not what either the committee or local residents wanted. Oops….