Day 1 – Let battle commence
Promptly at 10:00 am the no nonsense inspector, Mrs Wendy Burden, began the eagerly awaited public inquiry into Tesco’s planning application for a massive retail park, supermarket and, perhaps most controversially, a 50,000 seat stadium for Everton Football Club.
Opening on behalf of Tesco Stores Ltd, the packed audience witnessed Mr Patrick Clarkson QC attempting to portray Kirkby as a massively deprived area in desperate need of the benevolence of Tesco; this led many to believe that a delegation from Oxfam and War on Want were about to descend on Kirkby led by Bob Geldof with his plans for a charity single to help the poor souls of Kirkby.
Everton faired little better; describing the need to relocate as chronic and highlighting the results of a fan survey, which placed Everton 19th out of 20 in terms of fan facilities he went on to explain, somewhat inexplicably to Evertonians present, that 53% of the seats at Goodison were obstructed and that inadequate facilities constrain revenue which in turn reduces necessary investment in stadia. He continued “Everton are unable to expand and that the club required 50,000 seats.
Mr Clarkson went on to explain that the critical mass of the retail is now classified as an attractor and that as a consequence of the retail this will enable, but not in the usual sense, the cross funding of the stadium for the benefit of the community, he later explained that the demolition of 72 residential units (homes) is being sought with the greatest of reluctance.
Covering the refusal by the applicants to release certain documentation, citing confidentiality and commercial sensitivity Mr Clarkson highlighted that one of the objectors, St Modwen as developers at Skelmersdale, had likewise cited the same when Tesco made enquiries regarding their £360M in what he described as a less deprived area. Mr Clarkson appeared oblivious to the patently obvious fact that St Modwen's development, which incidentally meets all planning requirements, wasn't the subject of a public inquiry.
He closed his opening statement by stating that they (the applicants) will seek to explain to the secretary of state “in the exercise of balance, the advantages of the scheme, with the unique coincidence of needs overwhelm any disadvantages.
Mr Martin Kingston QC for Knowsley continued the deprivation in Kirkby theme by explaining “the current proposal would break the cycle of deprivation which had been a feature of the area for so long and to do so in a way which will make a real and sustained ton the area”
The planning inspector reminded the applicants that after several requests many documents were still to be released by the applicants to the inquiry.
The opposition led by Liverpool City Council and the combined authorities were next with Liverpool's QC, Mr Stephen Sauvain, entering the fray. It was very noticeable that whilst the applicant's legal teams were attempting to simply paint a positive picture of the future, under Tesco, the opposing teams were happy to illustrate the departures from established planning policies, both Mr Sauvain QC and Mr Roger Lancaster demonstrated time and time again that the applicants case was hopelessly inadequate in relation to local, regional and national planning policies.
Mr Sauvain concluded his opening statement with an attack on the applicant's apparent shift in their position on the correlation between the stadium and the size of the retail, he elucidated, “The role of the stadium in these application proposals seems to be confused. Initially the planning statement repeated again and yet again that the proposed quantum of retail development was required in order to perform an enabling function by meeting a £52M gap in funding for the stadium. Knowsley were left in no doubt that the faced a “once in a lifetime” opportunity however the applicant and the local authority now seem very coy about providing any information which would explain the financial relationship between the quantum of development proposed and the cross-subsidy which, we are told, is required by the club” Mr Sauvain concluded by questioning the apparent shift in position over the applicants explanation concerning the meaning of enabling when during the planning process they explained that on over fifty occasions the level of retail is needed to deliver the cross subsidy of £52M.
Tony Barton then gave a passionate speech that contained a brief chronological history on the events surrounding the campaign against the building of the stadium leaving Ronnie Round, the leader of Knowsley Council, blankly staring into space as Tony described the decision not to hold a referendum on the basis that the people of Kirkby would be unable to understand the complex issues involved.
Dave Kelly of KEIOC concluded the introductions by giving an equally passionate speech regarding being a lifelong Kirkby resident and a lifelong Evertonian who welcomed appropriate regeneration of his hometown but not Everton, as a 50,000-seat stadium doesn't belong in a 42,000 resident town. Southdene not Dixie Dean and Mere Green not Quarry Green he explained to the assembled residents.
On the commencement of the delivery of the evidence of Mr John Francis, a witness on planning issues for Tesco / Everton, the revised Section 106 agreement made an appearance only to be found to be wanting by all the opposing parties. Mr Francis was firstly guided through his evidence by Tesco's QC before Liverpool's QC, Mr Sauvain, began a thorough cross-examination with, amongst others, confirmed:
- That the retail park wasn't a retail park!
- That Tesco didn't need the stadium, they could go ahead without the stadium
- A key component of the applicants case is that South of Cherryfield Drive was big and brash
- That an alternate site for Everton and a Tesco was being sought in 2004.
- Mr Francis confirmed that even though 11,000sq m are needed within the existing town centre 50,000sq m have been applied for
- That the Knowsley Replacement Unitary Development Plan ("KRUDP") had been abandoned.
The overall assessment of the first day is that already the weaknesses of the Tesco application are all too readily exposed for all to see and that both Tesco and Everton could be in for rough ride as the opposing lawyers line up for their opportunity interrogate the witnesses.
KEIOC will endeavour to bring you the highlights of the days events at Kirkby every evening, the full text of the opening statements will appear here a little later.