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Friday, November 21, 2008

Day 4 – Shoppers with £240 Million needed

After some illness, Mrs Wendy Burden felt recovered enough to take her position on the fourth day of the public inquiry into Tesco’s planning application. Tesco’s QC, Mr Patrick Clarkson, led their second witness, Mr Jeremy Williams, an expert in retail planning, through his evidence.

Agreed planning policies continued to be thrown out of the window as the depiction of Kirkby as some retail hinterland devoid of suitable facilities and in desperate need of a massive philanthropic transformation into a retail centre serving 225,000 continued with Mr Williams informing the inquiry that no major retail investment had occurred in Kirkby while at the same time others, in surrounding major centres, such as Liverpool and Warrington and other centres within Knowsley, had received considerable investment. Mr Williams illustrated that surveys conducted by Tesco had revealed a real need for a substantial increase in retail in the town. Very few could argue that Kirkby wasn't in need of appropriate redevelopment that reflects the needs of its 42,000 inhabitants, however what many people are bewildered with is the need to transform the community into a massive shopping destination with a floor space far beyond the needs identified by the hastily abandoned UDP of 2006.

Mr Williams concluded that whilst he conceded that, as a result of the Tesco development, Kirkby would enhance its position in the regional retail hierarchy he denied that it would have an effect on the neighbouring retail centres including St Helens, Wigan and those in Sefton.

Mr Williams' easy ride was over when Mr Stephen Sauvain began his cross-examination. Mr. Williams conceded that three fifths of the new development was sited away from the existing town centre, presumably more if phases three and four aren't delivered as promised, and that it would indeed enhance Kirkby's role in the regional hierarchy but that many residents do their shopping elsewhere. Presumably the forecast increase in retail spending will be achieved thorough the cessation of the fleet of coaches, provided by KRISP, taking Kirkby people to the Trafford Centre.

On questioning the need to adopt the planning application route they have undertaken to deliver the transformation of Kirkby from a community based shopping centre to a massive out of town retail destination Mr Williams again conceded that it was normal to adopt the development plan process for an application of this size.

Mr Sauvain suggested that it was the case that Asda and Sainsbury's have a greater focus in the North West and that with Asda having stores at Switch Island and Huyton Tesco were simply attempting to address the balance rather than the needs of the people of Kirkby.

Mr Williams adhered to the script concerning the size of the development meeting the needs of the community. With some acerbic wit Mr Sauvain pointed out that it was a thought that the current town centre was perhaps too big as it had been originally designed to meet the needs of 80,000 residents.

Despite Mr Williams' protestation that Kirkby would have little or no effect on Liverpool One and in an attempt to highlight the sheer size and the increase of available retail that Kirkby would have on offer, as a result of this application being approved, Mr Sauvain suggested that Kirkby would join the £320M turnovers of St Helens, Wigan and Warrington when it expands from £60M to over £300M. This clearly begs the question as to where these shoppers with an additional £240M of spending power are hiding, perhaps the inquiry need look no further than the opposition benches containing Liverpool City Council, Sefton, West Lanc's and St Helens, Grosvenor and St Modwen.

Perhaps it was a slip of the tongue but Mr Williams, when asked about the stadium, explained that the cross-subsidy from Tesco had now inexplicably risen to £54M, who knows, in fact who really knows anything about this completely unnecessary event. If sense prevailed Kirkby residents could have their supermarket and their appropriate redeveloped town centre and Evertonians could have their redeveloped Goodison Park or new stadium in a suitable part of Liverpool. However, someone seems to want 50,000 sq m of retail whether there's actually a need or not.

Let's see what the second week brings.

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