Monday, November 26, 2012
A decision on whether Asda will be allowed to build a £122m store in the city will be made next week, the Norwich Evening News can reveal today.
When plans for a second Asda store were turned down by Norwich City Council’s planning committee three months ago, it was one of the most controversial decisions made at City Hall for years.
But, next week, the plans will come before councillors once again, and superstore bosses are hoping for quite a different outcome.
Proposals for the £122m development at the former Bally Shoe factory site, near Tuckswood, will be back on the table when the planning committee meets on Thursday next week. The plans are for a 5,796 sq m superstore, gym, pub, community centre, 334-space car park and other shops at the derelict site on Hall Road, and could be voted on before Christmas.
The plans which will be discussed are identical to those which were rejected by the committee in September, when the application was refused by five votes to four.
Last time around, officers had recommended approval despite the plans being against the authority’s own policies.
They 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. Yet, because the positives, including the creation of up to 400 jobs, outweighed the negatives, officers had recommended that councillors agree the scheme.
However, the Green councillors on the committee, and Liberal Democrat Caroline Ackroyd voted to refuse it, with the four votes by the Labour councillors present not enough to stop the plans being turned down. The reasons given by the councillors for turning down the application was that it 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.
But, since that meeting, Green councillor David Rogers, who voted against the plans, saying the council should not encourage projects which lead to more consumption when the polar ice caps are shrinking, has resigned.
Labour’s former Lord Mayor Jenny Lay, a member of the planning committee who was one of two Labour councillors who did not attend the last meeting, has also resigned after being diagnosed with cancer once again.
That could create a situation where the vote comes down to the casting vote of the committee chairman David Bradford, who last time around voted in favour of the application.
A spokesman for Asda said he hoped this time around, the committee would give the scheme the go-ahead. He said: “We are looking forward to our plans being determined by the planning committee at Norwich City Council. We were obviously disappointed that the previous application was refused – despite being recommended for approval by the council’s planning department. Our development will generate 300 new jobs in Norwich and create a further 100 at the other uses on the site. We will work with Jobcentre Plus and other agencies to target these jobs into the local community.”
Following the last decision, in a poll organised by the Norwich Evening News, nearly four in five people said councillors had got one of the city’s biggest planning decisions for years wrong. Almost 1,000 readers had their say in just four days, with 79pc saying that proposals for a the development near Tuckswood should have been given the go-ahead.
Brenda Arthur, Labour leader of Norwich City Council, said after the last decision that she was furious that such an opportunity had been missed and accused the Greens and the Liberal Democrats of losing the city 400 jobs. She said of next week’s decision: “People cannot be whipped [forced to vote along party lines] for planning decisions, so I am sure every member will make a decision based on their own judgment.”
Claire Stephenson, leader of the Green group on Norwich City Council, said Asda had been “disrespectful” in simply resubmitting the application, rather than amending it to take on board the concerns which were raised. She said: “I would have expected them to put in an improved application and haven’t taken that opportunity, which I think is quite insulting.
“When it comes to the vote, the Green councillors will make a judgment based on what they hear in the meeting. If there had been improvements I am sure they would have taken them into account, but as there haven’t been, who knows?
“The application is clearly not for the benefit of local people in Lakenham or it would not have been so car-based and pedestrian and cycle access would have been much better.”
Just as last time around, representatives for the owners of Chapelfield Shopping Centre have asked for a string of conditions, including controls on how big some of the other shops are.
But a new objector to the plans is Homebase, which has a store nearby in Hall Road. In the submission to Norwich City Council, Gareth Roberts, from GR Planning Consultancy, said his clients had only become aware of the proposals after the previous application was refused. He said: “My clients object to the proposed development on the grounds it will have a harmful impact on Sandy Lane and Whiting Road and potentially undermine Homebase’s operations... as a result of queuing and delays.”
Asda already has a city store at Drayton High Road in Hellesdon.
The city council’s planning meeting is due to meet at City Hall at 10am on Thursday, December 6.
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