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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Day 5 – Liverpool One Trembling at Kirkby!!

Week two began with the continued cross-examination of Mr Jeremy Williams, Knowsley’s planning expert, by Mr Roger Lancaster, the barrister for the combined authorities of Sefton, St Helens and West Lancs. Early questioning revealed that the applicants had failed to provide a proper evaluation of the need for a development of the proposed size and that what little evidence offered was flawed.

Mr Lancaster attempted to establish where in the league of supermarkets the proposed development would fall and questioned why Kirkby's Tesco Extra needed to be 35% bigger than Asda's store in Aintree. Mr William's explained “There is a need to compete” to which Mr Lancaster eruditely replied “But I thought that this development was for the needs of Kirkby…..”

Like a dog with a bone Mr Lancaster wouldn't let this go, moving on to the Unitary Development Plan (UDP), having established that St Modwen and Development Securities had each proposed separate development plans within the recently adopted Knowsley Replacement UDP (KRUDP), which had been so readily abandoned once Tesco had expressed an interest, Mr Lancaster asked, “Could you explain why a UDP that needed only 7,000sq m of comparison development, in the whole borough, now required Kirkby to have 38,000sq m?” Mr Williams appeared unable to answer and when Mr Lancaster returned to the subject of “need” he appeared equally lost for words when asked about a complete lack of evidence, for even 20,000 sq m let alone 38,000, had been presented to the inquiry. In the end all Mr Williams could offer was that the massive increase was needed to attract investment.

Mr Lancaster now turned his attention to the portrayal of Kirkby as a totally deprived area in desperate need of saving by Tesco. He explained that this development is threatening Skelmersdale, a town centre with a 30% commercial vacancy level that has dropped 150 places in the retail hierarchy in the past year alone. Their proposed £360M redevelopment, which complies with their UDP, will not go ahead if Kirkby is approved.

In retail terms Bootle is now one-third bigger than Kirkby but will be one-third smaller if the development is given the go ahead. The town is further up the retail hierarchy, is under pathfinder renewal and will have funding diverted from the upgrading of The Strand if Kirkby is approved. Mr Lancaster asked Mr Williams “If Roger, Tym and Partners (Knowsley's own consultants) can recognise this, why can't you?”

St Helens is a named centre in the retail hierarchy and ING, the owners of Church Square, have stated that its redevelopment won't be brought forward if Kirkby is approved; this is contrary to the Regional Spatial Strategy.

In closing Mr Clarkson, the applicants QC, displayed a total disregard to agreed local, regional and national planning policy when he arrogantly referred to “The trembling Liverpool One that was terrified of this new Kirkby proposal”; words that may well incite Liverpool and Grosvenor into trembling for another reason.

After only one week of this inquiry it is rapidly becoming apparent that the needs of the ordinary people of Kirkby and the supporters of Everton Football Club are of little consequence where vast sums of money are at stake for a select band of people.

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