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Friday, May 16, 2008

Last throw of the dice?

Knowsley CouncilKMBC are having one final attempt at trying to influence the Secretary of State’s proposed changes to the Regional Spatial Strategy.

Despite the recent dismissal of Knowsley’s last attempt to have the stratum “Key Urban Service Centre’s” added to the regional hierarchy Knowsley are now trying to have the imaginatively named “Deprived Suburban Area” included in the same hierarchy. Many readers will recall that the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) contains a retail hierarchy that identifies Liverpool and Manchester at its apex followed by many regional towns in a hierarchical order reflecting need and sustainability. Kirkby has never appeared in this hierarchy.

Knowsley are anxious to have Kirkby, or a term that could be associated with Kirkby, included in the emerging RSS as this will be used as a key determiner in the forthcoming public enquiry deemed necessary by the overwhelming opposition to Tesco's Destination Kirkby planning application that contravenes local, regional and national planning policy.

After the aforementioned earlier dismissal the Secretary of State issued a clear statement that “comments only” are now invited before 23rd May and not a re-opening of issues previously dismissed. A clearly desperate Knowsley council have ignored this guideline and are once again attempting to re-invent Kirkby for the sole benefit of the Tesco planning application. Expect all local authorities and stakeholders to submit comments.

The recent attempt by Knowsley to buy time from the inevitable call in has failed, in a bid to prevent anticipated objections Knowsley wrote to all local authority chief executives and offered “substantial reductions” to the proposed retail element of the development, this was later interpreted by the Daily Post and Echo as a figure ranging between 25% and 40%. It now appears that this “substantial reduction” surrounds the removal of mezzanine floor space; something that can be added again by unit owners without applying for planning permission.

The problem for all the local authorities and indeed the owners of existing and proposed retail outlets such a Grosvenor, St Modwen, Bootle Strand and Aintree Racecourse Retail Park, amongst others, is that the initial development which they all objected to was described in December 2007 in Knowsley's draft Interim Policy Statement suggested a retail element of 43,000 square metres, this had mysteriously grown to approximately 63,176 square metres when the planning application was submitted in January of this year. We expect our readers are intelligent enough to come to the same conclusion as all the neighbouring authorities. It's an increase being camouflaged as a decrease. Whichever way you look at it this is a phenomenal increase in the pre Tesco Knowsley Replacement Urban Development Plan (KRUDP 2006) that identified a need for a 9,000 square metre food store and an additional 2,000 square metre of non-food shopping floorspace, 11,000 square metres in total, Tesco are seeking a 400% increase on this figure even with their proposed reductions, this is why all neighbouring authorities are objecting and why an enquiry is inevitable.

Unlike Knowsley council KEIOC could never describe Kirkby as a deprived suburban area, having recently spent quite a bit of time there we would describe Kirkby as a thriving community in need of appropriate retail redevelopment to augment and compliment the clear improvements that have taken place in recent years. Unsurprisingly many Kirkby residents see the community needs of education and housing ahead of the corporate needs of Tesco; perhaps this is why a four-week-old political party is putting the fear of god into the local Labour party.

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