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Inquiry Reports

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Day 15 - Housing based schemes are likely to kill future developments

Regeneration expert tells inquiry that housing based schemes are  likely to kill future developments

Mr Roger Lancaster, barrister for the combined authorities, began the day with his cross-examination of Mrs. Sheena Ramsay, CEO of Knowsley.

Mr Lancaster asked how KMBC had attempted to address the levels of apparent deprivation through their existing Unitary Development Plan. Mrs Ramsay explained that the recently adopted UDP, 2006, had reflected the needs of the town until the opportunity surrounding the current proposal had emerged, she confirmed that the UDP, if prepared today, would have perhaps had a different approach.

It should be remembered that the current UDP identified the need for a 9,000 sq m supermarket with an additional 2,000 sq m of additional retail space. The current proposal being considered by the inquiry is for a combined 50,000 sq m. whilst the need has apparently increased dramatically the population during the last two years has, not surprisingly, remained the same.

When Mrs Ramsey explained that the current proposals would have a positive impact on local education, improve employment opportunities and raise local aspirations; Mr Lancaster pointed out that as far as education was concerned, these proposals were irrelevant and would not bring any monies into local education and reminded her that the extent of commitment to education in Knowsley was to turn eleven schools into seven learning centres. Mrs. Ramsey agreed with this premise but then explained that the Everton in the community programme would have a positive affect on the local community through re-engaging young people. EITC is an innovative programme that currently operates throughout Merseyside.

Turning to the affect the planning proposal will have on the local housing community specifically the value of properties close to the development Mrs. Ramsay initially dismissed the question by claiming that she wasn't an estate agent but responded that it may not help those properties when reminded that she had said that it would make the market more attractive. On the subject of the affect on the local community Mrs. Ramsay confirmed that no work had been done on a plan b but that she wasn't qualified to comment on the affect on the community of 50,000 football supporters descending on the town.

Mr. Lancaster next attempted to establish why Tesco appeared to having been in receipt of preferential treatment from KMBC over St Modwen, Mr. Weiss, a previous owner of parts of the town centre and then Development Securities. Mrs. Ramsay explained that whilst she agreed there had been interest no planning applications had been forthcoming. Mr. Lancaster enquired why if KMBC were prepared to use CPO's now why hadn't they used them on Mr. Weiss for St Modwen when they wanted to develop? Why had Development Securities spent £60M if they weren't serious? Mrs. Ramsay explained that she believed Development Securities had no substance behind their plans and that with St. Modwen' failure to develop, it was “a question of degrees.”

Next Mr. Lancaster turned his attention to the tricky area of land values. Mr. Lancaster asked, “If it (the value) isn't based on land value is it perhaps based on hope value?” Mrs. Ramsay answered, “It's based on a King Sturge valuation.” An irritated Mr. Kingston, representing Knowsley, interjected by informing the inquiry that this question had been asked and would not be answered again. Mr. Sauvain, QC for LCC then stated that as the information given was insufficient and no evidence had been provided, he would make a submission to the Secretary of State that no weight or decision can be made on this issue.

Mr. Lancaster continued by asking Mrs. Ramsay if the land sold to Tesco could be bought back if the scheme failed, somewhat astonishingly Mrs. Ramsay replied that if permission wasn't granted then there would be no right to buy back the land. Mr. Lancaster pointed out that, (because Tesco now own most of the town centre and have the only planning application) the future of the town centre depended on Tesco and that the future of Skelmersdale depended on the outcome of this, although what happens in Skelmersdale will not affect this.

Mrs. Burden asked Mrs. Ramsay what the council's position would be if Destination Kirkby was proven to have a detrimental affect on other Knowsley centres such as Huyton and Prescot. Mrs. Ramsay explained that they had taken expert independent advice on this matter and it had been established that no threat existed for those centres but she acknowledged the concerns of Skelmersdale in West Lancashire.

Mr. Kingston then established from Mrs. Ramsay that the grant applied from the NWDA would be lost if the scheme failed to go ahead.

Mr. Kingston once again led Mr. Hollis, the applicant's expert in regeneration and retail, through his evidence. Mr. Hollis explained that he had used two sources to calculate revised retail forecasts due to the current economic climate; he concluded that there would be sufficient expenditure available to the development for it to be successful.

Mrs. Burden appeared unconvinced and indicated that the projected rates of growth, in the current climate, could be somewhat unrealistic. Mr. Hollis offered to conduct another forecast to determine the possible affect of the current economic downturn and present this revised information in January.

Mr. Lancaster began his cross-examination by wanting to know why Kirkby, a town of 42,000 inhabitants, needed the third largest Tesco in England and the biggest in the North West. Mr. Hollis replied it was needed for the new role that he envisaged for Kirkby and that there did exist a need.

Mr. Lancaster, clearly unconvinced, continued to probe Mr. Hollis about the enormous size of the proposed Kirkby supermarket. “Why, on a day to day basis, does Kirkby need this size of store?” Mr. Hollis relented that he was unable to present a qualitative case for the quantum but that the size was essential to provide the critical mass that would provide jobs for local people. Mr. Lancaster persisted, “Mr. Hollis, I've asked you a question, in relation to shopping need, not regeneration is there a need?” Mr. Hollis could only offer that Kirkby hadn't had a supermarket for some thirty years.

Mr. Hollis agreed that the scale of the existing town centre would increase by 200% but that the starting position was miniscule. He also conceded that this was a large increase in the existing scale and function but that this was needed to achieve regeneration.

Mr. Lancaster then moved on to question Mr. Hollis about the proposed developments compliance with the Regional Spatial Strategy. Mr. Lancaster asked Mr. Hollis if he believed the Regional Spatial Strategy to be contrary to national guidance and that the Secretary of State would need to decide if it breeched policy if it lifted Kirkby above other centres in neighbouring authorities? Mr. Hollis replied that the Secretary of State would only look at material considerations if it broke with planning policy and that this was only one of four criteria that would be considered.

Mr. Lancaster next asked about Skelmersdale and the possibility that the approval of Destination Kirkby would see an end to Skelmersdale's own redevelopment plans. Mr. Hollis agreed that if this could be shown then the Secretary of State would need to take a view on which development was the more needed and likely to be delivered. Mr. Hollis agreed that both areas were priority three but that Kirkby's need was the greater and that Tesco's ability to deliver was much better than a housing based scheme that under the current conditions would most likely kill it. So that's the end of the Bellefield and Goodison plans then.

Mr. Hollis finished by stating that the loss in investor confidence in the surrounding authorities centres would pale into insignificance when the effects of the regeneration benefits to Kirkby are applied.

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