24 Jul 2016

Death knell for New Ferry?

The decision by Wirral planners and Labour councillors to approve a new Aldi store at Port Causeway off the A41 represents a hammer blow for New Ferry shopping centre. The new store on a designated industrial area with no retail facilities not only represents a clear breech of the Town Centre First policy but also negates Wirral Council's promise to protect employment infrastructure. Located just a mile from New Ferry, the new store will suck millions of pounds out of New Ferry and will also damage the existing retail in Bromborough Village.

At Thursday's planning committee I made a compelling case for refusing Aldi's application. Sadly, only Stuart Kelly from the Lib Dems supported my position. Below you can watch the video of the debate (courtesy of John Brace) accompanied by my detailed arguments against approval.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMVU9f9JucE&feature=youtu.be&a

Reasons for refusal:
As the officer's report makes clear this site is identified as a Primarily Industrial Area. That was very apparent from the site visit and we could see the significant infrastructure in place to support employment. This designation is retained in the draft Core Strategy so the potential loss of employment land is a serious consideration, particularly as the council's own Employment Land and Premises study found a serious shortage of immediately available and serviced employment land. In contrast, it would be difficult to argue that Wirral faces a shortage of supermarkets.

So this site is important in terms of ensuring that, as the 2020 Vision says: “Wirral is a place where employers want to invest and businesses thrive” If we are to approve this application we need good reasons for doing so especially as this site is far from existing retail centres.

So a good starting point would be: Is there a suitable alternative location that would accommodate a similar development?

In doing so we should take account of the guidance from the National Planning Policy Framework paragraph 24 of which states “only if suitable sites are not available should out of centre sites be considered” and also“applicants and local planning authorities should demonstrate flexibility on issues such as format and scale”

The obvious potential site to consider is the former CO-OP in New Ferry which is only a mile from the application site and is in an established town centre. The applicant's reasons for rejecting that site is its irregular shape and lack of connectivity between the store entrance and the car park. Those are hardly insurrmountable challenges. Bear in mind that the applicant will demolish two large buildings as part of this application if approved.

So I would argue that there is a suitable alternative site and we shouldn't let the fact that it doesn't suit Aldi's precise requirements undermine our existing policies supporting town centres and centres of employment.

We also need to take account as part of the retail assessment the negative impact that this application would have on the vitality and viability of existing town centres.

Even on the applicants own figures 8% of the new store's trade would be diverted from existing New Ferry stores and 6% from existing stores in Bromborough Village. There is also a row of shops, including a convenience store, in between these two centres on Coronation Drive which is 5 minutes walk from Port Causeway. 

The existing Aldi in Bebington Road is forecast to lose 27.5% of its trade, which would mean that there would also be fewer linked trips to other shops in New Ferry.  Similarly a further 27.5% of trade is forecast to come from Asda, which would limit the opportunity for linked trips on the Croft Retail Park and generate a lot of additional traffic on Port Causeway.

There will therefore, even on the applicant's own assessment, be a demonstable negative effect on existing town centres.

Basically, if we approve this application it is highly likely that there will be severe stress on existing outlets in New Ferry, Bromborough Village and in between.

Paragraph 27 of the National Planning Policy Framework states that

Where an application fails to meet the sequential test or is likely to have significant adverse impact on town centre vitality and viability it should be refused

Clearly this application fails on both grounds. It should be rejected on the grounds that:

Insufficient information has been provided to demonstrate why alternative premises in New Ferry Town Centre cannot be utilised for the proposed development.  Therefore, it is the opinion of the Local Planning Authority that the sequential test set out in Paragraphs 24 and 27 of the National Planning Policy Framework have not been met and that the proposed development would undermine the vitality and viability of New Ferry Town Centre.

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