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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Every little hurts?
Today's Guardian has an article by George Monbiot on the planned Tesco on the outskirts of his small Welsh town.
My town is menaced by a superstore. So why are we not free to fight it off?
People know a Tesco will suck the marrow from us. Yet the decision is left in the hands of a remote and frightened council...
I won't reprint it all, the link is worth following for the entire article, but the following extracts relate so much about the wider problems of the UK planning system:
"...in seeking to oppose its application, we find ourselves fighting bound and gagged. Tesco launched its campaign with an exhibition and "consultation" which seemed to me to be wildly biased in favour of the development. I asked its PR man whether the consultation would be independently audited. The answer was no. Tesco announced that the great majority of residents were in favour of the store. A door-to-door survey by local people discovered the opposite, but I think you can guess which study made the headlines.
We waited, but we had no idea when Tesco would submit its application. Like all developers, it is not obliged to give prior notice. It submitted its plans to the county council on 24 June. The council didn't release them until 14 July. From Tesco's point of view, the timing was perfect. This was the week in which the county's schools broke up and many of its opponents were setting off on their summer holidays. We had until 31 July to register our objections (we lost four days due to council fumbling). People are now returning from their holidays to discover that it's too late to object.
To compound the unfairness, there is no legal requirement for the developer to ensure that the claims it makes are accurate. Tesco's planning application is riddled with questionable statements. It maintains that the new store "will provide a minimum of 140 additional full and part-time jobs". However, the superstore's own research shows that every large outlet causes the net loss of 276 jobs. That's hardly surprising: independent shops employ five times as many people per unit of turnover (all sources are on my website)...."
"But the real issue is this: if the county council turns it down, Tesco can appeal. The cost to the council would be astronomical. As John Sweeney, leader of North Norfolk district council observed, Tesco "are too big and powerful for us. If we try and deny them they will appeal, and we cannot afford to fight a planning appeal and lose. If they got costs it would bankrupt us." Hardly any local authority is prepared to take this risk. Tesco can keep appealing and resubmitting, using its vast funds until it gets what it wants. Objectors, by contrast, have no right of appeal. The inequality of arms means that we scarcely stand a chance..."
And that can be echoed by anyone who has ever tried to fight the system. Ask those who have lost, and are still in danger of losing, their homes through the government's scandalous Pathfinder schemes. Ask local community and national amenity groups trying to fight developers with megabucks funding.
Thankfully, at times some still battle on, and on occasions, win.
The latest on the British Museum saga (http://nemesisrepublic.blogspot.com/2009/07/british-museum-plans-rejected.html ) is that, despite the local authority planning officers recommending the plans be passed, once, thankfully, they were turned down by councillors, a range of apparently overlooked policies with which they did not comply seem to have been dug up from the bottom of a drawer. It appears in this case, at least, the British Museum is having second thoughts, and rather than appealing, it is reconsidering the entire scheme. An update and the reasons for refusal can be read here:
This is only a small part of a long list:
"THAT planning permission, listed building consent and conservation area consent be refused for the following reasons:-
1. The proposed development, by virtue of its excessive bulk, scale, massing, site coverage and detailed design, would be harmful to the listed buildings, fail to respect the setting of the listed buildings and would detract from the character and appearance of the Bloomsbury Conservation Area, contrary to policies B1 (General design principles), B3 (Alterations and Extensions), B6 (Listed buildings) and B7 (Conservation areas) of the London Borough of Camden Unitary Development Plan 2006..."
Odd, really, that English Heritage failed to say those things, and supported the scheme. It's also supporting the demolition of the Bradford Odeon, despite a long campaign to retain this major Conservation Area building, which could have been retained and converted.
As reported in the AJ:
"...Campaign group BORG (Bradford Odeon Rescue Group) have fought hard to save the turreted-brick cinema and have repeatedly tried to get English Heritage (EH) to list the building, without success.
In fact the latest designs have been given a guarded thumbs up from EH.
Trevor Mitchell, planning and development regional director, Yorkshire and Humber at English Heritage, said: ‘The revised proposal respects the setting of adjacent listed buildings and provides new buildings of an appropriate quality, in a sympathetic landscaped setting, safeguarding the overall character of the city centre conservation area.
‘While the loss of the Odeon’s turrets and façade would be regretted, we are satisfied that the benefits of the proposal would outweigh the harm which it would cause. English Heritage would therefore support the revised scheme.’ "
Is someone leaning on English Heritage, is it now scared to oppose schemes in case its days are numbered, or has it just given up in case of developer appeal and expensive public inquiry? Well, it can't be seen to be standing in the way of progress and developer's fat profits, can it?
There is time to object:
http://www.bradfordodeonrescuegroup.co.uk/ "Officially the closing date is 21st August 2009 however BORG have a written assurance from Stewart Currie (Case Officer) that all objections will be accepted and presented to the Regulatory & Appeals Committee right up until the meeting in which they will decide the Odeon's fate..."
and no doubt many will. But with EH not bothering to fight the scheme for demolition, it's an unequal struggle once again.
Bradford Civic Society has recently published the following excellent document:
Common Sense Regeneration: http://www.bradfordcivicsociety.co.uk/commonsenseregeneration.pdf
I hope someone at English Heretics finds the time to read it.
"...People also felt that planning is too often in the hands of individuals who have scant knowledge of, or interest in Bradford’s unique and important heritage, and for whom Bradford may be merely a project, or a “stepping-stone” towards career advancement elsewhere...
People expressed a very strong feeling that members of the public are not listened to and that “consultation” is a sham. Because regeneration is in the hands of Bradford Centre Regeneration (BCR), a non-elected body, linked to Yorkshire Forward another non-elected body, there is a particularly strong view that proper accountability to the citizens of Bradford does not exist and these bodies can therefore act with an impunity amounting to arrogance. As one person commented, “Things are done to the people of Bradford, rather than for the people of Bradford.”Another commented, “These bodies have an agenda which is not that of the citizens of Bradford.” There were many other similar comments..."
Those are views which I suspect are not limited to Bradford.
Another couple of conservation battles to mention: first, that of the Nelson Palace Theatre. All and any support for the listing application is welcome, and even if not listed do write to the council and ask for the retention and re-use of this sound Edwardian theatre, which could and should be found another use and not demolished for a car park as Pendle Council intends.
Pictures and further information:
"...You may wish to incorporate these sentences in your response:
I am writing to request that Pendle District Council reconsider its view that the former Nelson Palace Theatre should be demolished for a temporary car park. The building should be retained and refurbished as part of the wider scheme of regeneration for Nelson.
The Masterplan suggests ‘building on the current leisure offer’ and ‘creating a strong corner and frontage with Holme Street and Leeds Road’. Retaining the existing auditorium and creating new additions and foyers for other uses could achieve this objective.
With care and imagination, the Nelson Palace Theatre could play a constructive role in the regeneration of the town and we would urge that specialist advice on how this might be achieved is sought..."
And another planning decision to wonder at, this time in Kent:
"...SAVE is deeply disappointed by Gravesham Council’s decision to grant consent for the demolition of the handsome former Milton Congregational Church, currently a Sikh Temple (the Siri Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara), on Clarence Place in Gravesend. Although unlisted, this handsome building, dating from 1872, is in a conservation area and in good condition. In approving demolition the council failed to heed objections from SAVE, the Victorian Society, Urban Gravesham and local residents..."
Why, I wonder, do we have a raft of laws, national and local planning policies, Conservation Area appraisals (this is considered a key building in the Windmill Hill Conservation Area) only for those to be overridden by councillors for reasons which have yet to be adequately explained?
Here is the full planning report:
and an extract:
"GBC Conservation Officer:
Condition and significance
The church is a landmark building that in terms of its architectural qualities and historical associations clearly contributes positively to the special character of the area. It is also a building of local interest and has been as such included in the Council’s list of local interest buildings. Furthermore, the building has been identified as one of the key positive buildings in the recent appraisal of Windmill Hill Conservation Area undertaken by the Conservation Studio.
Having been in constant use the building is in a good condition. To suit its new uses it has been altered and adapted over the years - not always in a sympathetic manner - but despite the loss of the original furnishing and fittings, it has retained much of its interest.
If listed or considered to be of merit and a positive building within a Conservation Area, PPG15 cautions the unnecessary loss of historic buildings and requires applicants to seriously investigate all possibilities for the building’s retention and adaptation. Government guidance therefore requires owners who consider the demolition of a positive building in a Conservation Area to meet the same criteria as set out for listed buildings. It states that the Secretary of State would not expect consent for demolition of any listed building/building of merit in a Conservation Area to be given without ‘clear and convincing evidence that
• all reasonable efforts have been made to sustain existing uses or find viable new
uses, and these efforts have failed;
• preservation in some form of charitable or community ownership is not possible
or suitable; or
• redevelopment would produce substantial benefits for the community which
would decisively outweigh the loss resulting from demolition.
The Secretaries of State would not expect consent to demolition to be given simply because
• redevelopment is economically more attractive to the developer than repair and re-use of a historic building, or
• because the developer acquired the building at a price that reflected the potential
for redevelopment rather than the condition and constraints of the existing historic
building. (PPG15, 3.17)
As with regard to the adequacy of efforts to retain the building in use, PPG15 further sets out: This should include the offer of the unrestricted freehold of the building on the open market at a realistic price reflecting the building’s condition. (PPG15, 3.ii)
The PPG15 Justification Statement that has been supplied by the applicant is
unconvincing, playing down the qualities of the building and any potential for its reuse.
The Authority would contest the findings of this document. Since the building positively contributes to the special architectural and historic interest of the Windmill Hill Conservation Area, the case that its demolition and replacement would bring about an enhancement cannot be made. Therefore the authority is entitled to ask the applicant to meet the criteria as set out in government guidance.
The justification statement discusses possible alternative uses in a hypothetical way though there is no evidence that the feasibility of other uses, even conversion to residential, have been seriously investigated. There are some other unconvincing reasons given such as, for example, that the rendering of the exterior building with a cement render would, in the author's opinion, ‘restrict any creative reuse proposals'...
The justification statement seeks to justify the re-development on the basis of the merits of the design of the new scheme. However, whilst these should be a material consideration, PPG 15 advises that ‘subjective claims for the architectural merits of proposed replacement buildings should not in themselves be held to justify the demolition.’
In summary of the above, both the previous and current conservation officer considers that insufficient evidence has been submitted of efforts made to retain the building in use or to consider any options other than the demolition and re-development of the site..."
I have read the report written by the 'Historic Buildings Consultant' provided by the applicant to attempt to justify the demolition, and in my opinion, it is so biased against the interest of the building, as touched on by the Conservation Officer in the report above, as to possibly render any PPG15 justification invalid. The applicant and the councillors have failed to adequately take note of local and national policies, which are in place to protect buildings such as this from demolition without going through certain procedures.
I understand SAVE is considering a legal challenge, although I think this really should be the subject of a Public Inquiry. This will be an interesting case to follow; however, I do wonder why it is that local communities and conservation organisations reliant on members' donations to fund them, and a great deal of goodwill and volunteer effort, should be the ones defending the national interest, in the face of, at times, overwhelming odds.