Vote: “The Greens and the Liberal Democrats have turned down 400 jobs.” - Norwich City Council leader Brenda Arthur after a new Asda bid in Norwich was rejected
The leader of Norwich City Council has accused Green and Liberal Democrat councillors of costing the city hundreds of jobs, after plans for a new Asda superstore were dramatically rejected.
Asda had hoped to build a new store at the old Bally Shoe Factory site, near Tuckswood, along with a gym, pub, community centre, 334-space car park and other shops, creating an estimated 400 jobs.
But members of the city council’s planning committee yesterday decided to refuse permission for the development, off Hall Road, by the narrowest of margins – five votes to four.
Green councillor Stephen Little proposed that the scheme be turned down on the grounds that the 5,796 sq m superstore was too dominant for a district centre, the plans did not make best use of a brownfield site, protected trees would be removed, pedestrian access was not good enough and the car park was too dominant.
His three fellow Greens and Liberal Democrat Caroline Ackroyd agreed, which was enough to outvote the four Labour councillors at the meeting.
Two Labour councillors who are normally on the committee, were not present.
Brenda Arthur, leader of Norwich City Council, on learning of the decision after the meeting, said she was furious the opportunity had been missed,
She said: “I am so disappointed that some members of the committee cannot understand the imperative we have in this city to encourage jobs.
“This was an ideal opportunity and it has been voted down. I cannot understand their thinking. The Greens and the Liberal Democrats have turned down 400 jobs.”
Council officers had conceded the plans went against the authority’s own policies, with the superstore “disproportionately large” for a district centre, and certain elements, such as the pedestrian access, not ideal,
They said councillors had to balance their decision with the other economic and community benefits the development would bring.
But Green councillors made clear their opposition, arguing they were reluctant to give the go-ahead for a car-focused scheme simply because Asda were promising jobs and for work to start next year.
David Rogers, Green councillor for Nelson ward, who likened the design of the proposed Asda to ‘Homebase sheds not put together properly’, said: “Do we take a short term view, that the money is on the table and Asda could build it now, or should we take a wider view about consumption, ripping things out of the ground and making people fat?
“If you look at the latest satellite pictures of the North Pole you can see the ice shrinking in front of your eyes. We should not be encouraging projects like this, which burn up fuel.”
Lucy Howard, Green councillor for Mancroft, agreed the plans were a “quick fix”, but questioned the sustainability of the scheme, including whether Asda would stock local produce or pay a living wage to workers.
And Mr Little, Green councillor for Town Close ward. said: “I am not objecting to this because it’s a supermarket. I live in the area and do take the point that cheap food can assist people on low incomes and it is more sustainable than driving to Tesco. “If we approve this we will go against our own policy, but I think it could come back in a better form. It’s crucial we make full use of brownfield sites.
“There is a argument that we need to just do it anyway to get the economy going, but I do not want to emerge from the recession with a poorly planned city.”
Mike Stonard, Labour councillor for Catton Grove, said: “I hear what people are saying about wanting a sustainable development and reducing food miles, but when you look at the circumstances of people living in the vicinity, these are people who are not well off.
“These are not people who can afford to buy organic food in Unthank Road. This is about communities that desperately need jobs and affordable food.”
After the plans were rejected, a spokesman for Asda said the company was “extremely disappointed”.
He said: “The development, overall, would have created up to 400 new jobs in a deprived area of the city and helped to regenerate a site which has been derelict for years.
“Our plans not only included a new Asda store, but also featured a brand new community centre, business start up units, a family pub, a sports facility - which could have been used by local groups and a woodland walk area.
“This development was a “shovel ready” project that could have commenced next year, creating further employment in the construction supply chain.”
It is understood Asda is mulling over whether to appeal the decision.