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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Day 20 – Tesco store too big for local population


Mr. Gary Halman, expert witness for KMBC on planning matters, told the public inquiry that Kirkby was failing, that it has been declining for many years and that its town centre is under performing. Mr. Barratt, counsel for KMBC, was keen to establish that “opportunity and need” ran through the Regional Spatial Strategy, that deprived areas were often close to areas of economic growth and he stressed that this requirement sought to address the fact that some of the poorest, most deprived areas were often located next to areas of opportunity and growth, he suggested that this was the case in Kirkby.

Mr. Halman explained that the Destination Kirkby proposal provided a good fit between the development, the benefits it would deliver, sustainable community policies, healthy lifestyles, regeneration and educational achievement. He went on to say, “There's a good level of compliance and support with current planning policies, the scheme would deliver sustainable development and there was no question that it was expected to be successful.” He continued, “The quality of the development, traffic management, maintaining the quality and diversity of habitat, measures to use renewable energy, energy efficient buildings and recycling of waste complied with the requirements of the RSS.”

Mr Barrett and Mr Halman were perhaps less keen to reveal the recent findings of the All Party Urban Development Group (APUDG), a cross-party group of MPs and peers that says that, while the UK's cities have undergone comprehensive physical regeneration over the past two decades, with resultant economic growth, those living near regeneration areas have not benefited by way of employment. Mr. Clive Betts MP, chair of the APUDG, said that regeneration projects have significant potential for getting local people trained and into work, but in many cases, newly built city centres and other areas of successful physical regeneration have been juxtaposed by continued deprivation and worklessness.

Mr Halman went on to say that the current UDP, had a sell by date of June 2009, he explained that some parts of the UDP were no longer up to date and should be allowed to lapse, which gave the local authorities the chance to step back and review their requirements. Knowsley Council had done this and decided that some parts no longer fully complied with national planning policy. He explained that as the Local Development Framework, the LDF, was ongoing and wasn't expected to be in place by the end of 2011, it would not be suitable to put this proposal through the Development Plan process.

Whilst conceding that the LDF process was more appropriate for a plan like this, Mr Halman explained that the availability of land, the acute needs of the town, the needs of Everton and that there was a developer with a strong track record and financial ability to deliver a development of this size, meant that, “this was an opportunity that existed now and if this was missed it would be tragic. It would not be in the best interests of the planning system to put this on hold for several years.”

The clear dilemma here is that it would conversely appear not to be in the best interests of the people in Liverpool, Sefton, Skelmersdale, St Helens and, somewhat ironically, people from other centres in Knowsley if it were to go ahead.

Managing to keep his face straight Mr. Halman told the inquiry that he felt that the Regional Spatial Strategy provided a suitable standard against which the proposal could be tested, that limited importance should be given to the UDP and went on to explain various elements of the development that would be beneficial to both North and South parts of the town; but quickly added that he did not recognise the two Kirkby's idea.

Somewhat commendably Mr Halman explained that, “KMBC wanted the Regional Spatial Strategy to take more account of the acute needs of Kirkby than had been realised when the Local Development Framework and Unitary Development Plan were drawn up.” Mr Halman explained that because of this they had made representations to the Secretary of State and thought the recent amendments to the RSS were a result of these representations. Once again readers of this website are reminded that an element of those representations concerned the promotion of Kirkby ahead of other centres; you can read the Secretary of State's decision on this matter here. (http://www.keioc.net/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=55&cntnt01dateformat=%25d%20%25B%20%25Y&cntnt01returnid=85)

Mr Stephen Sauvain, QC for Liverpool City Council, commenced his cross-examination by asking Mr Halman why the application wasn't suitable for the LDF process and why the RSS is more appropriate than the UDP. Mr. Halman explained that it was clear that the previous strategy through the UDP had not been successful, that some of the solutions to the town centres problems set out in the UDP had been demonstrated to be unsuccessful and that the town's needs were much more significant than could be delivered by the strategy laid out in the UDP.

This would be the UDP that was adopted by Knowsley Council only 18 months before this planning application was submitted. Mr Halman was attempting to justify the need for a scheme over 300% greater than was identified under that UDP. Obviously the extent of the deprivation in Kirkby had been slightly underestimated when producing the current UDP.

Mr Halman agreed that Planning Policy Statement 6 was the key guidance to assessing the retail aspects of this proposal but added that the new PPS 4 included retail development associated with economic development and as a result there was now recognition of retail's role; he felt that all the RSS policies had to be seen together, in the round.

Mr. Halman also agreed the scale of the development had to be taken into consideration but this did not relate to the current scale and function of the town centre. Mr. Sauvain then put it to Mr. Halman that Kirkby was not making the most of what it had and that worklessness needs to be looked at in context of other policies. He wanted to know why they had not used the sequential approach and looked at developing built up land rather than open land. DP4 states that there needs to be clear evidence of why built up land can't be redeveloped. Mr. Halman failed to agree that Kirkby was simply not making the best use of its current size; he explained that transformational change couldn't happen if only the North site was redeveloped; they had to look beyond that, the degree of change needed for regeneration needed the use of open land.

Mr Sauvain put it to Mr. Halman that economic regeneration is a material consideration but that he was trying to suggest that there is no conflict with policy therefore the Secretary of State doesn't need to take this into account because of Tesco's financial viability. Mr. Halman replied that he acknowledged there is evidence of conflict but that it is broadly compliant; there was sufficient broad compliance.

When it was put to Mr. Halman that there was no guarantee of phase four of the development happening and that the leisure unit and Kirkby civic buildings would be going onto the open market, he agreed and stated that they wanted to change Kirkby from a town no-one was interested in into a major retail destination; a boast that will no doubt be noted by the Secretary of State.

In closing, Mr. Sauvain once again attempted to unearth a little more information on the cross-subsidy and the council being satisfied that the retail was the nearest they could get to comply with policy. Mr. Halman denied that KMBC supported this scale of the development simply because it was needed for the enabling element and, apparently forgetting the fifty occasions that it is mentioned in the planning application, pointed to the many mentions in Council documents of the need for critical mass to regenerate the area and that King Sturge had said that the quantum was critical.

Mr. Roger Lancaster, counsel for the combined authorities, began his cross-examination by suggesting that this change of function should be dealt with through the Local Development Framework. Mr. Halman agreed that to be the case, and that in ordinary circumstances, developments that created a significant change of role and function of a town should be put through the LDF process; but, he suggested, that if policies were appropriate for a similar development in Skelmersdale, an area that Mr Lancaster appeared for, then it must be the same for Kirkby, explaining that Skelmersdale and Kirkby shared several characteristics in the retail hierarchy. Mr. Lancaster was quick to correct Mr. Halman, “No, it is not', Skelmersdale is third priority and is of appropriate scale; if you're suggesting that it was not appropriate, then you must also be saying that Kirkby, by default, was not. Mr. Halman appeared not to have a view on Mr. Lancaster's observation.

Mr. Lancaster reminded him that in September 2008, the office of the Secretary of State left it to local government to define centres and indicate their roles; Mr. Lancaster asked why they had decided to use an ad hoc approach to this. Mr. Halman denied this encouraged an ad hoc approach, he insisted there was guidance in place that allowed authorities to take this stance and that development is allowed through guidance. He explained that he was a supporter of plan led proposals but added that if authorities could find an acceptable level of compliance with relevant policies then developments should not be held up unnecessarily. Once again Mr. Lancaster reminded Mr. Holman that he had called Kirkby a suburban township and that the proposal was transformational; it was “radical intervention”. With regard to the former, Mr. Lancaster declared that “it won't be that when you've finished with it!”

Moving on, Mr. Lancaster sought clarification on the description that the change was massive, he could only elicit from Mr. Halman that the term was subjective, that the current centre was failing and that there was a clear need to change perceptions.

Mr. Lancaster then asked if the proposed retail was necessary to meet the needs of this community and was initially given the stock answer that the investment proposed would address the problem of leakage. Mr. Lancaster mocked this answer “But Mr. Halman, this is the biggest aspidistra, the biggest Tesco in the region...'” Mr. Halman concurred that the size of the Tesco store wasn't necessary to meet the needs of the local population.

On something of a roll Mr. Lancaster then put it to Mr. Halman that if phase four didn't materialize 90% of this development would be out of town, on Greenfield space. Mr. Halman concurred that there was a risk of that happening. Mr Halman explained that the plans did reflect the individual character of Kirkby and explained that he did not think it was sensible to recreate a failing centre; what was needed was something that was more sustainable.

Taking the opportunity to elicit more information in regard to the apparent mysteries surrounding the alleged cross-subsidy Mr. Lancaster once again moved onto the question of enabling, citing a report from the KMBC planning Committee, dated June 2nd, CD 5.1 page32, which stated: “The development proposals are then examined in order to explain the relationship with the stadium development and the subsequent transformational opportunity that is created for Kirkby. In particular, the key principle that underpins the proposal is that the stadium cannot, for viability / cost reasons, be secured without the enabling retail development. Furthermore, the ranges of regenerative benefits associated with the proposal are described.”

A clearly embarrassed Mr. Halman replied that it was loose language. Cross subsidizing was what the council took into account.

Mr. Lancaster continued from the report, “the scale of development is also appropriate and necessary in the context of providing cross funding for the new EFC stadium. The latter being the key investment required to secure a ‘step change' in Kirkby's profile.' (Pg 81)

Mr. Halman again suggested that this was a different point to enabling development.

Completely ignoring Mr. Halman's explanation Mr. Lancaster continued to quote from the report, “Whether the financial case has been made by the applicant to demonstrate the enabling development case. The applicant claims the scale of retail floor space proposed is needed to cross –subsidize the cost of building the new stadium for Everton.

i) Is the costs for the scheme reasonable?

ii) Can the £52million gap be justified?

iii) Is the amount of floor space proposed the minimum necessary to raise the subsidy required?” (p224)

Referring to this passage Mr. Lancaster suggested that the contagion of loose words must have got to the council's chief planning officer, as he seemed to understand it was enabling; “The report makes it clear that this was an enabling development and the officers made their decision accordingly.”

In closing Mr. Lancaster enquired about European funding received by Kirkby. Mr. Halman agreed that Kirkby had received Objective One money from Europe but that it hadn't translated into changes in planning policy. Mr Halman continued, “Nobody had disagreed that despite all the money that had been poured into this area, it still faced huge challenges.”

Never did Mr. Halman speak a truer word; there's a huge challenge being undertaken by the residents of Kirkby as we speak.

After a brilliant display of cross-examination Mr. Lancaster can look forward to a well-earned rest over the weekend.

Mrs. Burden closed the inquiry; day 21 starts at 09:30 on Tuesday.

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