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Monday, June 23, 2008

Remember the missing KMBC commissioned retail report....?


An independent retail assessment of 'Destinantion Kirkby' by Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council's consultants, a report that despite the promises of KMBC was witheld from surrounding local authorities , has once again underlined the huge conflict between the Tesco Stores Limited proposals and national, regional and local retail and town centre planning policies. Despite bowing to the "immense pressure" from senior Knowsley Councillors to recommend the Tesco planning application, Knowsley officers not only made it abundantly clear that they were in agreement with the damning Roger, Tym & Partners retail assessment, they repeatedly raised their 'real concerns' that the 'full benefits' of 'Destination Kirkby' as promoted by Tesco, 'have not been secured and may not be delivered.' 

Knowsley officers agreed with RTP that;

  • the application fails the needs test.
  • the scale of the proposal is inconsistent with the role of Kirkby town centre in the wider retail hierarchy.
  • the proposal is in conflict with the sequential policy test. 
  • the judgement reached by RTP is more realistic (than that of Tesco) and to be preferred.

As predicted by KEIOC, Knowsley Cllrs were minded to grant permission of this application citing that the benefits to Kirkby and Knowsley outweighed the wide and varying non-compliance with planning policies. This despite their officers warning that the 'full benefits' of Destination Kirkby' could not be secured and were not guaranteed to be delivered by Tesco Stores Limited;

'......negotiations with the applicant (and the commercial considerations that Tesco are subject to) have not allowed your officers to achieve such an outcome......'  

Thankfully for all concerned Kirkby residents and Evertonians, this planning application is now out of the hands of KMBC. 

For the summary of the advice given by Roger, Tym & Partners and the Knowsley officers' assessment, read on...

The primary retail and town centre related issues are:

  • is there a need for the development;
  • whether the development is of an appropriate scale;
  • whether there are any more central town centre sites for the development (sequential test);
  • whether there are unacceptable impacts on existing centres

Roger Tym and Partners (RTP) were engaged by Knowsley Council to provide specialist advice on retail matters relating to the planning application and, specifically, to audit the applicant's Retail Assessment. RTP's advice is summarised at the outset of each of the following primary retail and town centre related issues. This is followed by your officers' assessment

Need

In relation to convenience goods RTP advise that both a quantitative and qualitative need for the floorspace proposed has been established. In particular, the finding of the applicant's household survey that there is a substantial outflow of convenience goods expenditure from the Primary Catchment Area (PCA) is accepted. Furthermore, with the proposal only 74% of the total available convenience goods expenditure within the PCA would be retained in the area. Such a figure is regarded as sustainable given the PPS6 aspiration that daily needs are met on as localised basis as possible. Furthermore, the qualitative need for a new food superstore in Kirkby is obvious given the unacceptable level of leakage of convenience goods expenditure that currently exists.

In relation to comparison goods RTP have concerns about the applicant's assessment of need. In particular, the PCA is too extensive geographically for Kirkby's present position in the retail hierarchy and questions whether it is possible and / or desirable to achieve through the development the retention of 51% of comparison goods expenditure of residents of the PCA (representing an uplift from the present 33%). RTP have carried out some testing and judge that it would be unrealistic and unsustainable to retain more than 47% of comparison goods expenditure locally. RTP do accept that the applicant has made a persuasive case for the need for a significant improvement in the quality of Kirkby town centre's comparison goods offer. Indeed, experience has shown that the strategy set out in the UDP is unlikely to deliver the step change in Kirkby's profile which will be necessary if the regeneration objectives for the town centre are to be secured. It is also accepted that such a development will have to be of a scale sufficient to transform the profile of Kirkby and create the necessary critical mass required to attract operators. RTP concludes that the application fails the needs test in relation to comparison goods.

Nevertheless, RTP consider that there is a clear quantitative and qualitative need for a substantial comparison goods development in Kirkby. It is RTP's view that such a development would need to be of a scale that is sufficient to transform the profile of Kirkby and create the necessary critical mass required to attract operator demand. It is RTP's assessment that a case can be made (based in part on quantitative retail need) for a comparison and convenience scheme of some 45,000m2 (gross) (this is approximately 5,000 m2 (gross) less floorspace than proposed). This would, of course, still be subject to further considerations in relation to the sequential approach and trade impact. Your officers accept that there is a quantitative and qualitative need for the convenience goods floorspace proposed. Your officers also accept that the applicant's have not fully established a need for the whole of the comparison goods floorspace proposed.

Scale

RTP note that the proposal involves an increase in Kirkby's retail floorspace of 235%. This scale of development would cause a significant uplift in Kirkby's position in the retail hierarchy. This does not acknowledge the higher policy status given to such as St Helens, Southport and Birkenhead that operate as second tier centres in Merseyside. Overall, RTP conclude that the scale of the application proposal is inconsistent with the current role of Kirkby in the wider retail hierarchy and inconsistent with the role envisaged for Kirkby in the emerging DRSS. Your officers agree with RTP's conclusion that the scale of the proposal is inconsistent with the current role of Kirkby town centre in the wider retail hierarchy. Such a significant shift in the role and status of Kirkby within the retail hierarchy is not foreshadowed by the UDP or RSS. It is, however, noted (as highlighted by the applicant) that policy does not preclude development, indeed there is policy support for development, in centres other than the higher-order centres listed in RSS and DRSS. For instance, for protecting, sustaining and improving all centres in the region (RSS Policy EC8) and promoting retail investment where it assists in the regeneration and economic growth of the North West's town and city centres (DRSS Policy W5).

However, in the first instance it is expected that the promotion of such would be provided for in local Development Plans. That support is not available in this instance. Furthermore, the policies are conditional (eg on need, impact and adoption of a sequential approach) and have to be read in the context of other RSS / DRSS policies that establish the higher-order retail hierarchy in which Kirkby does not feature.

Sequential Test

RTP note that the land south of Cherryfield Drive is in part an ‘edge of centre' location and the remainder (that part extending beyond 300m from the boundary of the town centre shopping area – approximately the southern third of the land south of Cherryfield Drive) represents an ‘out of centre' location. RTP advise that, as the proposal is being promoted by way of a planning application (rather than as part of the RSS and LDF processes), it is in conflict with the sequential test laid down in policy. Parts of the proposal can be met within the existing town centre on sites that pass the PPS6 tests of suitability, viability and availability. However, RTP consider it likely that the Council will be able to justify an expansion of Kirkby town centre through the LDF process, and it is accepted that a more radical solution to Kirkby's needs is required than that proposed in the existing UDP. A scheme of some 45,000m2, as suggested in the assessment of need above, could be accommodated within the town centre and on the northern half of that part of the application site to the south of Cherryfield Drive. The latter being land that may be regarded as ‘edge of' the present centre.

RTP accept that there is a qualitative need to create sufficient critical mass within an expanded town centre, so as to generate the occupier demand necessary to raise Kirkby's profile. It, therefore, follows that there is no merit in seeking to disaggregate the scheme so as to provide different parts of the scheme in other town centres. Nevertheless, RTP accept that no other sites are either sequentially preferable or meet the suitable, viable and available tests set out in PPS6. Members should be aware, in considering the sequential issue that the approach to site selection as set out in PPS6 is firstly to look for sites within existing centres. If there are no suitable and available sites only then should edge of centre sites be considered with a preference for those that are well-connected to the centre. If there are no suitable and available sites only then should out of centre sites be considered with a preference for those that are or will be well served by a choice of means of transport. Part of the development (involving an uplift of some 1,552m2 (gross) of retail floorspace along with other town centre uses) is proposed for the existing town centre. In your officers' view this is to be welcomed and is policy compliant. Indeed, the amount of new retail development proposed within the existing town centre is far greater than the ‘uplift' figure suggests (the figure is 14,843m2, but has to be set against demolition of 13,219m2 of existing retail floorspace). However, there is physical scope to accommodate more retail development within the existing town centre. With the applicant's acquisition of DevSec's town centre interests, there is no longer any ownership constraint as previously cited by the applicant. It should also be noted that the town centre elements proposed are generally later phases of the development and are not secured. The applicant's argument is that without a successful development to the south of Cherryfield Drive there will be no catalyst to drive development within the existing town centre. The logic of the argument is understood. In particular, there has been no recent market interest in the investment in the town centre. However, there has to be a concern that the town centre elements are not secured and may not be delivered.

If these elements were not to be delivered (as has to be assumed for an assessment of policy compliance), the ‘town centre first' policy expectation would not be satisfied in the medium / long-term, let alone the short-term, and the desired holistic regeneration of Kirkby town centre not achieved. This is clearly a matter of real concern to your officers that will need to be considered by members in reaching their conclusions on the application.

To conclude, your officers generally concur with RTP's findings. That is, the proposal conflicts with the sequential policy test. In particular, there is physical scope to accommodate more of the scheme within the existing town centre, with the remainder of the retail development in a more compact form that could be accommodated on land considered to be ‘edge of centre', rather than ‘out of centre'

Impact

RTP concurs with the applicant's assessment in relation to the impact of the proposal in the convenience goods sector. RTP has no concerns about potential impact on other town centres. Particular reference is made to the convenience trade diversions to the scheme from Kirkby, Prescot and Huyton town centres of £7.42m, £6.49m and £7.94m respectively. Most of these diversions will be from the Somerfield (Kirkby), Tesco (Prescot) and Asda (Huyton) stores, and the highest absolute diversion from the Asda store at Aintree of £10.83m.>

RTP do, however, have concerns in relation to the cumulative impact of the application proposal on the comparison goods sectors of other town centres. The applicant's assessment shows the highest absolute cumulative diversions will be from Liverpool city centre, Southport town centre, Prescot town centre including the Cables RP, Wigan town centre, Warrington town centre and St Helens town centre. The applicant also estimates that the highest cumulative percentage diversions from existing retailers will be in Kirkby town centre (30%), Prescot town centre (31%) and Liverpool city centre (22%)

RTP have raised some concerns about the assessment methodology adopted by and of key assumptions used by the applicant. RTP have re-worked the impact assessment on the basis of their preferred assumptions. The consequence is a greater absolute cumulative comparison trade diversion to the scheme from most city / town centres, but particularly from the larger centres of Liverpool, Southport, and St Helens. RTP conclude that the application proposal would cause some degree of conflict with the PPS6 cumulative trade impact test because of the risk of harm to various centres within Knowsley and beyond. In particular, the risk of harm to future public and private investment that will be needed to safeguard and enhance the vitality and viability of Huyton, Bootle, Skelmersdale and St Helens town centres.

RTP's concerns focus on the potential impact of the application on future investment in Skelmersdale, Bootle and St Helens town centres. Whilst the incremental comparison goods percentage impacts are less than 5%, these are centres that serve low income areas and are in need of enhancement.

Your officers acknowledge that the applicant (Tesco) sought to justify its view by reference to an account of the health / performance of each centre affected by the proposal. Nevertheless, your officers consider that the judgement reached by RTP is more realistic and to be preferred. That is, at the levels of trade diversion anticipated there remains a degree of conflict with the Planning Policy Statement impact test.

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