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Inquiry Reports

Friday, January 16, 2009

Day 21 – Double Speak, Smoke and Mirrors

Mr. Lancaster, counsel for the combined authorities, continued his cross-examination of Mr. Halman, expert witness for KMBC on planning matters.

Mr. Lancaster established that while Bootle was 2nd priority behind Liverpool and Manchester, it comes above Kirkby in Regional Development Framework 1. It is an inner area and within Housing Market Renewal Initiative (HMRI) area. Mr. Halman agreed that those two factors would need to be considered. Mr. Halman also agreed that any harm to St. Helens would be a relevant factor. When asked if the proposed development at Skelmersdale would harm Kirkby, one that is deemed of an appropriate size and conforms to planning policy, Mr. Halman answered that, whilst he agreed that the correct planning procedures had been followed and that KMBC had never objected to the SDP for Skelmersdale, he could not say that the suggested development at Skelmersdale would not affect Kirkby as there was no planning application yet and the assessment of harm had not been done. Mr. Halman continued by explaining that all developments needed to avoid harm to existing centres; this was clear in planning policy.

Mr Halman agreed with Mr. Lancaster that the redevelopment project for Skelmersdale was for 33,000 sq m, compared to 50,000 sq m at Kirkby but pointed out that the difference in size was due to the fact that Kirkby, a larger centre then Skelmersdale, did not have a major food store. Much has been made of this but it should not be forgotten that Skelmersdale is, by comparison, relatively isolated and that Kirkby, whilst nobody could argue that it doesn't deserve a major food store in the town centre, is in close proximity to the Asda store at switch island and would have been in close proximity to the proposed Tesco store at Stonebridge Cross if KMBC hadn't objected to that development on the grounds that it would have had a detrimental affect on Kirkby Town Centre.

Planning Inspector Mrs Wendy Burden asked for the population figures for Skelmersdale and Kirkby, Mr Lancaster informed Mrs Burden that the population of Skelmersdale was 39,279 compared to Kirkby's 40,006. Meaning that those 727 extra people residing in Kirkby appear to require an additional 17,000 sq m, or in percentage terms an additional 51% of retail space over that proposed for Skelmersdale.

Mr Halman conceded that the proposed catchment area for Destination Kirkby was more extensive than had been suggested in the recently adopted Unitary Development Plan (UDP), which, in his opinion, had proved to be insufficient to deal with Kirkby's problems. He once again reiterated the need for critical mass and a new approach.

Mr. Peter Fisher, Knowsley Constituency Liberal Democrats, (KCLD) was next to cross-examine Mr Halman. Mr. Fisher asked, “Has enough consideration been given to the concerns of local residents?” Mr. Halman agreed there had been concerns and explained “all representations and objections had been laid out in the report given to councillors from officers, along with measures to address those concerns.” Mr. Fisher put it to Mr. Holman that the objection to the stadium, obtained from the consultation was 93% but no weight was given to the consultations. Mr. Holman agreed that there was significant opposition to the stadium from the residents and significant local concern; however, the planning officers needed to take into account the needs of the whole borough. Mr. Fisher, put it to Mr. Halman that Local Authorities have a moral duty to listen to and accept the views of those whom it represents therefore no significant weight can be given to the consultation.

Mr. Fisher then asked why is there a need for more retail floor space than was recommended in the UDP? Mr Halman explained “the evidence base for the UDP related to evidence provided by Chesterton in 2002, this was not robust and was now out of date.” He went on to explain that research, conducted more recently, had shown that there was in fact more scope for retail than had been identified at the time of the previous report, that KMBC had been attempting, unsuccessfully, to attract investment prior to the adoption of the UDP and that in the view of the Council the previous proposals were appropriate at the time but new research indicated that more was needed.

To the casual observer it appears incredible that a council who, after years of research, consultation and meetings, adopted a unitary development plan one year and then began considering a proposal from a developer the following year that appears to run the proverbial coach and horses through that plan, how could someone get the retail requirements so wrong, wrong by a factor of over 300% at least.

Mr. Fisher's next question surrounded the Knowsley planning meeting at which the application was approved, “Was the three minute time limit on members of the public who wanted to address the planning committee on these proposals acceptable?” Mr Halman explained “this was not unusual and there needs to be a time limit if a lot of people want to speak.”

When Mr. Fisher asked what he meant by Knowsley being well connected, he replied that its connections with the main route network were a “broadly based concept”

When asked how this development would affect people in Halewood Mr Halman explained that it would “flow and spin out”. People could choose to avail themselves of the facilities. Mr. Fisher then reminded him that the stadium would impact on the Kirkby, not Knowsley, Kirkby.

Mr Fisher then asked, “Why didn't earlier redevelopments planned for Kirkby never materialised? Does this put aspects of this development in doubt? Mr Halman explained that the applicants were big players with a clear commitment to implement the scheme if planning permission was granted. He said he did think the current economic conditions would affect this explaining that there were elements of the proposed scheme that depended on the market and that the critical mass was needed to attract interest and investment that would ensure the later phases would be delivered.

Mr. Tony Barton, on behalf on KRAG, cross-examined Mr. Halman. Tony asked why this 'once in a lifetime opportunity' had been presented with so little consultation? Mr. Halman responded that communities often have problems accessing documents. Tony put it to him that perhaps a scale model would have been a good idea.

The results of the consultation document revealed that out of the people who responded, 40% wanted regeneration of the existing town centre, not this new approach, and only 20% were in favour of the new approach. Another 40% didn't bother responding. Therefore, it was not a popular development. Is consultation about being informed but not having a say? Mr.Halman replied that was what representation was for. Tony responded that we haven't been represented properly. Mr. Halman concurred that that large elements of the community are unhappy but it is the largest consultation exercise this council has ever done. He said the elected members should take account of the opinions of the voters but they then had to take a view based on a lot of other factors. He said consultation was a crucial part but there were other factors here that would affect the decision of the members, who had, after all, been elected by local residents. When Tony put it to him that a figure of 93% objections should not have been ignored by the officer's report and their views disregarded, Mr. Halman didn't agree. He stated that there had been amendments, conditions and mitigation proposals and that the Council wanted to take forward a development that they think will be in the best interests of local people.

Tony asked why the stadium was not even a question on the "Your Kirkby, Your Future" questionnaire. Mr.Halman agreed that it hadn't been included in the tick boxes but explained that it was clearly on the Ariel view, it was clear that it was part of the new proposal.

Tony asked if it was mere coincidence of this coming together, of Everton's need and Tesco's philanthropy, he was told “such a convergence of key drivers, with resources available to make something happen and the land available was unique” Tony continued, what about the material harm? What about the Kirkby lock down on match days? Mr. Halman said he understood concerns but it is a mitigating factor. Tony asked why they keep getting the same stock answers? This project was going to cause material harm to people's lives, day and night, old and young. Mr. Halman didn't accept there would be any material harm, he explained that it was about finding a planning balance in these situations, there would always be an impact in any development and it was the job of the planning process to balance the benefits with any harm to the greater good of the majority of people. Mr. Halman went on to state, “ I agree the impact of the stadium on match days was a significant factor but this impact, on certain days of the year only, had to be balanced with the significant gains the proposal would bring but, that said, he did not wish to underestimate the concern of local people.”

Tony then enquired about planning policies “Do planning polices have to be adhered to or do they simply have to be interpreted?” In an Orwellian response Mr. Halman replied, “It was a question of defining and interpreting planning policies and trying to find the right way of applying them; the point of the public inquiry was to determine the correct interpretation of those policies.” We're glad that's been cleared up then.

Dave Kelly of the Keep Everton in Our City campaign commenced his cross-examination of Mr Halman. Dave asked “would Mr Halman have advised Knowsley Council differently if he had been in place earlier?” Mr. Halman responded that he wouldn't change anything and was comfortable with the conclusions that the Council had reached.

Dave then asked a question concerning elements of the proposals that did not comply with development plan policy. Mr. Halman responded by saying that broad compliance was relative, but he agreed he had highlighted the elements that did not comply

Dave then asked why Everton supporters, as stakeholders, had not been consulted; Mr. Halman explained that this was outside the councils remit, they could not consult beyond the local population, that Everton supporters had obviously known about this for a while and that this inquiry was their chance, they have an opportunity now.

Dave next asked how this will address deprivation, “how have such developments addressed deprivation in Huyton and Prescot?” Mr. Halman explained that it will retain shoppers, there will be employment opportunities and it will keep a mobile and active workforce, although he couldn't provide figures but there would be benefits to Kirkby.

Dave then asked about the lost running track, boxing club and velodrome, he was told this was were dealt with by the UDP.

Asking a question concerning the re-routing of the brook that ran alongside the proposed site was told that enhancements would be made.

Moving on to the stadium Dave asked what Mr. Halman meant by saying the new stadium would be better than GP. He was told that Goodison Park's deficiencies would be designed out. Dave then asked if it was Knowsley's responsibility to provide a better stadium for Everton Football Club Ltd, Mr. Halman stated that it was not KMBC's responsibility to deliver a new and better stadium for Everton but that “it was accepted that Liverpool and Everton played an important part in the sub-region and the opportunity to provide this improved facility had arisen.” Asking Mr. Halman if Everton could stay at Goodison Park, he conceded that it was an option but it would damage the future prospects of the club.

Moving on to the existing Town Centre, Dave asked Mr. Halman to expand on what he meant by saying the Town centre is busy, others say it is under performing, Mr. Halman explained that it had no night-time economy and the shops were the bargain end of the market; Dave put it to him that the un-gated part was as well used as Huyton or Prescot, Mr. Halman explained that he was unfamiliar with those areas night-time economies, but restated once again that Kirkby's was practically non-existent.

Dave suggested to Mr. Halman that he may have reservations about design but Mr. Holman's response was that he didn't think the design was unacceptable. In closing Dave asked about the fact that surveys had been done on protected species yet none had been done on those residents who face the threat of CPO's; why was this? Mr. Halman wasn't sure what he meant by surveys.

Mr. Roger Lancaster, counsel for the combined authorities, introduced the first witness to appear for the Combined Authorities Objectors, Mr. Keith Nutter, a town planner and an expert on retail and leisure developments.

Mr. Nutter explained that in a planning application it is not up to the applicant to demonstrate need; this was the Local Authorities role. Mr Nutter detailed why he thought these proposals contravened current planning polices.

He went on to say that scale was still an important matter under the draft Planning Policy Statement 6 (PPS6) which states that “if a proposal was on the edge of a town centre, it must be of an appropriate scale, in terms of its role and catchment area.”

Mr. Nutter next explained that the policy stated a development needed to be flexible to respond to changes in the economy and that was why proposals should be taken through the Development Plan process and that these retail proposals were inconsistent with the scale and function of Kirkby town centre, both for comparison and convenience goods, and that it would have an affect on the vitality and viability of other centres in the region, which would again conflict with planning policies.

Mr. Nutter continued, “The current policies sought to concentrate comparison shopping in the 26 key centres of the region. Post development, Kirkby will leapfrog St. Helens and Birkenhead in the retail hierarchy and move Kirkby next to Southport in the retail hierarchy. It will also move Kirkby from 12th to 5th and Skelmersdale will move from 13th to 7th.” His opinion was that he thought the size of the development exceeded the needs of the local community and stressed again that taking the town higher up the retail hierarchy was in contravention of planning policies. He pointed out there is the need to enhance the roles of Birkenhead and Bootle over Kirkby.

Moving to the technical definition of the type of development this application represents, Mr. Nutter explained that the front door of the Tesco store, being more than 300 meters from St. Chads, is out of centre, although some elements are edge of centre. He explained the policies that regulate and define what is an edge of town centre development. He said the distance from the northern edge of Cherryfield Drive and the doorstep of the new Tesco would be 293 metres, making it edge of centre.

Mr. Nutter's opinion was that a store of the size applied for was inappropriate and thought that the needs of the local people could be met by a smaller store. He stated “critical mass was not backed up by planning polices.”

Mr. Nutter stated, “A 9,000sq m store would meet the needs of the community.” It should be noted that Tesco has applied for a store of over 15,000sq m and that the whole application is for 50,000 sq m. Mr. Nutter continued, “there is no policy which supports moving Kirkby above Prescot or Huyton, this application would be in conflict with the current UDP. Prescot would be the more obvious centre, given the larger population in the south of the borough. This is not sustainable, getting people to come to Kirkby in cars.” He continued by stating that his research had indicated that the possible retail catchment area for Kirkby was Zone 1, essentially the town itself, was the most sustainable, realistic and robust assessment of where people will come from to shop in Kirkby. It was clear that the development was far too big for the needs of the people of Kirkby and that there was no evidence presented to convince him that the size was needed to compete as opposed to the St Modwen development at Skelmersdale that was designed to meet the needs of local people.

He continued “ the population of Kirkby is approximately 40,000, the applicants had suggested that the development would attract six times this amount to shop in the town; this was clearly unrealistic and unsustainable and described the applicants' method of determining the catchment area as simplistic.

He said he could not see how these proposals would help change the fortunes of the existing town centre and felt that the development was designed to meet the needs of the retailers, not the local residents.

Mr. Nutter closed by explaining that he did not object to Kirkby having another food store, it was the scale that was a problem. He finished by saying that the two existing stores in Kirkby Town Centre, Somerfield and Netto, had a combined floorspace greater than that available at Skelmersdale.

Mr. Patrick Clarkson, QC representing Tesco, began his cross-examination by asking Mr Nutter if the councils he represented accepted the fact that there was deprivation in Kirkby that would be addressed by these proposals; that jobs and increased economic activity are advantageous. Mr. Nutter replied that yes it would create jobs in Kirkby but it needed to be weighed against losses in other areas and he wasn't sure how it would tackle the other causes of deprivation.

Mr. Clarkson accused the councils of being aware that Kirkby has problems but that they wanted to keep it as it was; refusal of this scheme would mean that KMBC would have to start again. Mr. Nutter replied that it was the scale that was the problem, the proposal being in total conflict with the UDP and its impact on established centres, and a concern surrounding the ability of the proposals to be sustainable in regenerating Kirkby.

Asked if the councils had a view on the relocation of EFC, Mr. Nutter replied that they did not.

Mr. Clarkson wanted to know why Skelmersdale was being allowed to develop, contrary to policy, while Kirkby was being kept under water. Mr. Nutter replied that Skelmersdale was developing in line with policy, unlike Kirkby.

Mr. Clarkson then asked, “Could the same approach to the Regional Spatial Strategy adopted in Skelmersdale be suitable in Kirkby?” Mr Nutter replied that Skelmersdale was being regenerated through the development plan process, it was not opportunity driven. When he stated that Kirkby would jump from 411 places up the hierarchy Mr. Clarkson replied “that's wonderful for Kirkby, wasn't it?” Mr Nutter replied that it was not for other centres.

Questioned on the Unitary Development Plan Mr. Nutter agreed that the UDP did not specify that Kirkby remained at the same level as Huyton and Prescot the policy “sought to maintain the three centres in their role in the retail hierarchy.” Mr Nutter said the combined authorities were not saying Kirkby should stand still; there was a need for investment of an appropriate scale that met the needs of Kirkby and not the needs of a much wider area, but this would not be done by putting a major development on land away from the town centre, surrounded by car parks. Development should concentrate on the Town Centre.

Mr. Nutter also stated that there was no linkage between Prescot Town Centre and Cables Retail Park. He restated that there could be another food store in Kirkby, competition would be a good thing. Mr. Clarkson was pleased to note that Mr. Nutter said that he didn't see Liverpool One being affected by this development

It was put to Mr. Nutter that people from Rainhill would come to Kirkby, which surprised him. He replied that if you built the Trafford Centre in Kirkby, people from Southport would come. The bigger the development, the bigger the catchment; and went on to say that this proposal was 'a classic retail park design'. Warrington and Wigan have both taken trade from St. Helen's, this is acceptable as they are sub regional centres. St. Helens shouldn't have to compete with Kirkby as well.

Mr. Clarkson asked if there would be any increase in the catchment area for the Skelmersdale proposals? Mr Nutter agreed there would be an increase in inflow but by a very small amount, and he agreed there was no problem with attempting to increase a catchment area based on research into where local facilities were drawing their trade.

Mrs Burden closed the inquiry for the day.

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