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Friday, June 6, 2008

Knowsley play “victim” card...

Discover Kirkby as a place to visit and live...whilst continuing to practice their unique brand of democracy.

After eighteen months of being told that the Tesco Stores Ltd proposed metamorphosis of Kirkby, from a developing community to yet another anonymous shopping destination, would be classed as inappropriate in terms of size and sustainability for a town of 42,000 residents, Knowsley Council and Everton Football Club were finally given a taste of reality by Liverpool City Council when, in accordance with established planning policies and the expert report analysis provided by Cushman & Wakefield, a unanimous decision was taken by LCC’s planning committee to formally object to the current planning application and demand a public enquiry.

KMBC spin doctors immediately sprung into action to promote Kirkby's new status as a small town being bullied and victimised by a powerful City Council and in a desperate attempt to divert attention, from the decision to object, embarrassingly brought into question the legality of allowing Cllr's Bradley and Anderson to address the committee.

Whilst it is understandable for callers to local radio stations to exhibit a total ignorance of the planning process and debate conspiracies surrounding Liverpool Council's motivation behind taking the decision to object, it is evident that KMBC are fully aware of the due process applied to planning issues and one would question their apparent attempt to dumb down the argument in order to avoid the real issues.

Saddest of all, for Evertonians at least, is the spectacle of a once proud football club becoming little more than a pawn in a battle involving big business interests and the political aspirations of Local Councils and Government. In a state of total oblivion and in a homage to Comical Ali, Everton were quoted as saying “we remain optimistic the project is still very much on course”

For the benefit of the remaining few who fail to understand exactly what Tesco Stores Ltd and Knowsley Council are proposing, here's a brief explanation of the facts. Kirkby, some nine miles from Liverpool City Centre, is a small township of 42,000 residents in the borough of Knowsley. The planning policy that governs Councils on planning applications, at local level, is the Unitary Development Plan or UDP. Knowsley's UDP states that Kirkby could sustain a 9,000 sq m supermarket and an additional 2,000 sq m of retail, Tesco have submitted a £400M planning application for a supermarket, a retail park and a football stadium. The total quantity of retail in this planning application is 63,292 sq m which is dictated by the need to provide a £52M cross subsidy towards the construction costs of the £130M football stadium, simply put, no retail, no stadium and conversely no stadium, no need to provide the planned level of retail.

The benefit for Tesco is that massive level of retail will attract major retailers to the development, providing maximum footfall and therefore an increased level of retail spending within this development.

The benefit for Everton is that the £130M stadium development will be built at the subsidised cost of £78M due to the £52M cross subsidy provided by the retail development.

The benefit for Knowsley Council is that they have the Kirkby Town Centre redeveloped.

Irrespective of the feelings of Everton fans and the local residents, the first problem for Tesco, Everton and Knowsley Council is that the proposed development fails to comply with what has been agreed in their recently adopted (2006) UDP. The device selected by KMBC to adapt the UDP was an Interim Policy Statement (IPS), this has no statutory weight, has failed to materialise, has been deemed to be fundamentally flawed and has been objected to by several neighbouring authorities.

A far more serious problem is the departure from the Governments Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) in which the application would be in conflict with a number of key policy objectives, specifically the retail hierarchy with its two main centres, Liverpool and Manchester. These conflicts form the basis of the major objections from, amongst others, Liverpool City Council, Sefton Council, St Helens Council and West Lanc's Council. The two remaining neighbouring authorities, Halton and Lancashire have expressed concern at the development whilst major private sector companies Grosvenor Ltd, ING (Bootle Strand), Skelmersdale Limited Partnership and St Modwen Properties PLC have submitted detailed objections. Many of Kirkby's residents groups have objected including Brook Residents Action Group, Kirkby Residents Action Group and Old Hall Estate Residents Action Group. Local parish council objectors include Burscough Parish Council and Melling Parish Council. In addition to the many town centre based businesses there were also many thousands of personal objectors to the application.

In addition to these concerns KMBC and Tesco's attempts to influence the Secretary of State's review of the Regional Spatial Strategy surrounding Kirkby's position in the retail hierarchy received a devastating blow when their representations on the proposed amendments where dismissed in February 2008.

Acutely aware of these mounting problems, and faced with an inevitable public enquiry, KMBC simply continue to plough ahead with their plans irrespective of the mounting, overwhelming volume and veracity of objections to this planning application.

The Knowsley cabinet recently excluded the public from a meeting at which they agreed to the disposal of 55 acres of land to Tesco Stores Ltd. This has since been reported in the press as being disposed of at market value. Market value of an acre of land with planning permission would be in the region of £1M an acre. With the fiasco surrounding Liverpool Football Club's Academy land fresh in peoples minds it will be interesting to see what value is entered in the public register.

Despite these many problems, Knowsley's planning committee will meet on Monday 9th June and will be asked to make a decision. Their decision should be heavily influenced by the information generated in a wealth of reports ranging from ecology through to transport and the results of the three much publicised consultations. Acknowledged experts in their fields such as ‘Drivers Jonas' and ‘Cushman & Wakefield' have savaged these reports through expert analysis and below is an additional analysis of the report on the findings of the three consultations. The report can be read here. The figures have been extracted and placed in a spreadsheet here. Below are the three pie charts taken from the report that the committee will be influence by and alongside are three pie charts based on the information actually in the report, we'll leave you to form your own opinion on what is being attempted here:

Accurate Consulation ChartKMBC 1st Consultation Chart

Accurate Consulation ChartKMBC 2nd Consultation Chart

Accurate Consulation ChartKMBC 3rd Consultation Chart

Not surprisingly the report fails to include an overall summary of the three consultations, here's one below:

Aggregate Objections v Support Over 3 Consulations

So there we have it, the majority of people attending the consultations were clearly against the plan, all the neighbouring authorities have expressed concerns about the apparent departure from local and regional planning policy with the two main authorities Liverpool and Sefton stating that they will ask the Secretary of State to hold a public enquiry who has already dismissed there attempts at moving Kirkby's position in the retail hierarchy and many commercial organisations are preparing to call for a judicial review if the Government fails to hold a public enquiry, none more so than Grosvenor and St Modwen.

Despite the clear weight of opinion against this application many people expect KMBC to approve the plan and inform the Secretary of State of their decision. We feel that in light of recent events it would be advisable for Knowsley and Tesco to have a major rethink on this application.

Everton can continue to do what they've done all along, wait to be told.

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