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Inquiry Reports

Monday, January 19, 2009

Day 25 – Tesco Application in conflict with PPS6

Dave Kelly [KEIOC] requested that Mrs Burden visit the Halliwell Jones Stadium in Warrington along with the proposed visit to the City of Manchester Stadium. Dave explained that the stadium was a Barr Construction development, on the outskirts of a town centre alongside a Tesco Extra store and as such represented a similar, if not scaled down version, of the Kirkby proposal. Mrs. Burden agreed to this proposal.

Mr Barrett, counsel for KMBC, continued his cross-examination of Mr Megson, Combined Authorities Objectors.

Mr. Barrett enquired if Everton needed a new stadium and that Kirkby represented the best location. Mr Megson explained that the CAO's objection lay with the retail element, not the stadium. He made clear that whilst be understood Kirkby needed regeneration, the scale of the retail being proposed at Kirkby would have a significant impact on regeneration proposals in Skelmersdale.

Mr Barrett asked if the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) support the proposed development? Mr. Megson offered the view that the development plan contained policies that both agreed and disagreed with the proposal.

Mr Clarkson, QC for Tesco, asked Mr. Megson if the Secretary of State could see the cross-subsidy of the stadium as a benefit to the retail? Mr. Megson agreed that this was possible; it could be a view taken by the Secretary of State.

Mr Roger Lancaster, Counsel for the CAO, went through Mr. Megson's evidence once again in a bid to clear up any confusion. Mr Lancaster asked for an explanation on the assistance given for the redevelopment proposal at Skelmersdale.

Mr Megson told the inquiry that it was a mixed-use development with a significant amount of retail. The North West Development Agency [NWDA] and English Partnerships had involvement with the masterplan, and he believed that the retail study [2007] should be given significant weight.

Mr Clarkson asked Mr. Megson if the Kirkby proposal was in conflict with the planning policy PPS6?

Mr Megson replied that the combined authorities view was that the proposal conflicted with the draft PPS6, as it would have “an adverse impact on Bootle, Skelmersdale, and St Helens, and the development was not in proportion with the role and function of Kirkby town centre.”

When asked about the Sustainable Community Strategy [SCS], Mr. Megson felt that whilst the Everton proposal was referenced in the SCS it should be dealt with through the local development framework not through the way it was being presented.

The next witness for the combined authorities was Mrs Taylor of the developers St. Modwen Plc. Mrs Taylor, based in Warrington, is their regional director Mrs. Taylor explained that St Modwen is regarded as the country's leading regeneration specialist.

Mrs Taylor read out her proof of evidence. She stated that Skelmersdale had experienced persistent decline since the 1960s. St Modwen was selected to develop Skelmersdale, in line with the expectations of partners West Lancashire Authorities and English Partnerships. The proposals for Skelmersdale include retail, offices, library and a cinema, which were based on the principles of good urban design, and she believed that the proposals delivered both commercial and social objectives. She believed that Kirkby's proposals had failed in the past due to land ownership issues, but these have since been resolved. If the Kirkby proposal goes ahead, she thought that the success of the proposals for Skelmersdale would be compromised. Whereas the retail proposal for Skelmersdale has been adjusted to satisfy broader objectives, Kirkby's retail offering has been developed with no compromise.

At the conclusion of reading out her statement Mr Lancaster asked “What was the nature of your discussions with Knowsley Council since 2003?”

Mrs. Taylor explained, “By the end of 2003 St Modwen had developed a masterplan for Kirkby town centre at the request of Knowsley Council. In 2005, Knowsley Council stated their desire to support the interests of Mr Weiss. St Modwen subsequently sold their interest to Mr Weiss in May 2005, this was to ensure that the land was not split between a number of different owners.” She believed that if Knowsley Council had issued a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) for Mr Weiss's interests, St Modwen would most certainly have looked to develop Kirkby. This would have been within the existing town centre. In her opinion Knowsley Council should have researched Mr. Weiss's development record more thoroughly before deciding whom to support.

Mr Lancaster asked, “What would you anticipate that Tesco would do if they owned the development rights for Kirkby town centre?”

Mrs. Taylor thought Tesco would want to develop a food store in the town centre, as she believed that other food stores were interested in those sites.

Mr Clarkson's next question concerned the role of St Modwen in the development plans for Skelmersdale?

Mrs. Taylor explained St Modwen had significant input into the masterplan. Once a design code has been agreed, an outline planning application will be submitted along with a detailed application for the first phase. She said that a design code is anticipated for Spring 2009, with outline planning application due in Summer 2009. It was her belief that the first phase would be to the southeast of the Asda development, which would include residential, retail, offices, a library, and possibly a cinema. This would equate to an estimated 15,000sqm of retail, and that any retail and housing would be available in 2011. She suggested that Skelmersdale needed both improved retail and housing offers, to attract both groups to the town centre.

Mr Lancaster asked, “Why would the proposals for Skelmersdale be jeopardised if the plans for Kirkby went ahead?”

Mrs. Taylor explained that Kirkby, in her opinion, “is a retailer's dream, plenty of car parking, the big units designed to meet the needs of retailers.” She thought that retailers would prefer this perfect retailing format, on offer in Kirkby, as opposed to a compromised offer in Skelmersdale. St Modwen would be left with no choice but to not proceed with their plans for Skelmersdale if the Kirkby development went ahead, but she suggested, “If a more appropriately sized development was to emerge for Kirkby, the two developments could co-exist.”

Mr Lancaster concluded with a question on the financial standing of St Modwen.

Mrs Taylor explained, “Despite the current economic difficulties, St Modwen were still trading very strongly.”

Mr. Barrett, counsel for KMBC began his cross-examination whit a question on the scale and speed of the developments for Skelmersdale.

Mrs. Taylor explained that the retail size of Skelmersdale was expected to be 34,000 sq m, and confirmed that the planning application was hoped for during 2008, but that it was now expected in early 2009.

Mr. Barrett enquired as to the history of St Modwen's involvement with Kirkby. Mrs Taylor agreed that in both 1999 and 2002, Morrisons and Asda had rejected Knowsley Council's approaches regarding sites in Kirkby. She acknowledged that Mr. Weiss argued that he did not require the interests of St Modwen to develop Kirkby town centre in partnership with Knowsley Council and she suggested that Knowsley Council believed that, whilst Mr. Weiss did not have the development record of St Modwen, he could develop the land in Kirkby. She understood the Council's reasoning, but felt that the Council should have gone further to investigate the lack of incentive for Mr. Weiss to develop the area.

Mr Barrett asked Mrs Taylor to explain St Modwen's role in the planning process in Skelmersdale. St Modwen, like all developers, will have to develop a regeneration scheme that met the wider challenges of the area. She explained that whilst the proposals for Kirkby were an excellent retail scheme, it failed to achieve transformational change or improve the lives of local residents. She suggested that successful regeneration schemes relied not on scale, but on form and function. She believed that the scale and nature of the development in Kirkby will drain resource from the existing retail offering, despite the removal of the barrier of affordable housing to the south of Cherryfield Drive.

Mr Barrett questioned how the existing proposals for Kirkby could be judged against the needs of an “ephemeral application that has not yet been submitted” Mrs. Taylor agreed that the proposal for Skelmersdale has yet to be tested against the Regional Spatial Strategy, as the formal proposal had yet to be submitted.

Mr. Barrett then enquired into the transport links for Skelmersdale, and how the overall plan for the town would look. Mrs Taylor understood that Skelmersdale town centre was designed around car use, as there is no train station. She believed that a planning document should set out the Council's aspirations for the town centre and suggested that the scale of a development should not be based on the scale of the deprivation. She took the view that St Modwen would utilise higher value uses to help support the softer public facilities aspects of the scheme. Therefore, St Modwen nearly always includes retail in their developments, as it is such high value. The soft features stated in the proposals for Skelmersdale include a leisure centre, swimming pool, a campus for the college, and a library. She agreed that this will increase the diversity of the town centre, and could subsequently lead to increased spending in the town centre from the more affluent people who live just outside Skelmersdale town centre.

Finally Mr. Barrett questioned the financial stability and composition of the Skelmersdale proposal. Mrs. Taylor said that the proposal was chiefly supported by retail units and commercial housing as the revenue generators. She said that whilst there has been a downturn in the commercial housing sector, there had also been a fall in the comparison goods sector. This would affect most developments. However, Mrs Taylor argued that the proposals for Skelmersdale would only come to fruition in 2011, by which time the economic conditions should have improved.

Mr. Patrick Clarkson, counsel for the applicants next took over the cross-examination of Mrs Taylor.

When asked if the presence of the Tesco store in Kirkby would help deliver the project Mrs.Taylor had to agree. She explained that the main objection was to the size of the retail, not the stadium, as this would have a detrimental effect on the ability of the Skelmersdale to attract major retailers; once again confirming that Skelmersdale was not being proposed as a destination and that Kirkby, with its large units and massive car parking facilities was a retailers dream.

Mr Clarkson asked if the Skelmersdale project was reliant upon the housing element; Mrs Taylor agreed this was the case and that St Modwen was expecting the housing market to recover by 2011.

Mr. Clarkson then asked about St Modwen's plans for Kirkby's town centre before they sold their interests. Mrs. Taylor confirmed that they had interest from some of the larger retailers and that they were happy to move into a redeveloped town centre on the existing site but that in order to achieve this St Modwen would have needed a more sophisticated plan.

Mr. Lancaster then asked Mrs. Taylor to clarify certain points in her cross-examination including a question on the weight applied to St Modwen's proposed application in relation to Tesco's actual application. Mrs Taylor explained that you could not differentiate, as both applications were at different stages in the planning process.

Mrs. Taylor explained that in her opinion Destination Kirkby would be to the detriment of the existing centre.

The planning inspector, Mrs Wendy Burden, asked Mrs Taylor, “Will the schemes which St Modwen has put on hold be advanced above the Skelmersdale scheme when the market picks up?”

Mrs Taylor answered that all schemes are advanced as soon as possible.

Mrs. Burden then asked, “Are there any indications that the finances for the Skelmersdale project could be jeopardised by the current economic climate?”

Mrs. Taylor replied that there weren't any indications and as director for the scheme she would have received advance warnings on this matter.

Mrs Burden thanked Mrs Taylor and closed the inquiry until tomorrow.

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