Newcastle MP urges government intervention over huge Tesco expansion

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04 Nov 2009

Newcastle’s Labour MP Paul Farrelly has asked the government to intervene in Tesco’s plans to redevelop its huge, 24-hour superstore at Trent Vale, taking the decision out of the hands of Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Calling Stoke’s controversial decision to approve the scheme ‘perverse, irrational and unsound’, Mr Farrelly today urged Communities and Local Government Secretary John Denham to ‘call in’ the development for a public enquiry.

The Newcastle MP also termed Tesco’s trumpeting of 180 new jobs at the store as ‘self-serving, specious and short-sighted’, owing to the impact that the near doubling of the supermarket on the A34 would have on Newcastle and Stoke town centres.

The project, which has been two years in the making, was given the green light by Stoke’s planning committee in mid-September after it agreed conditions to be placed on the supermarket chain. The key decision to permit the development at all was taken in April, but only by a narrow 5-4 majority.

This was despite firm recommendations from the City Council’s own officers that it should be refused, supported by specialist retail consultants. Newcastle Council also objected strongly, as has the North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership.

Today Mr Farrelly said it was the first time in his eight years as an MP that he had asked a Cabinet minister to intervene in such a way.

“I believe the decision, ignoring all the evidence, to be perverse, irrational and unsound. I have seen quite a number of poor planning decisions locally in my time, but none which quite so blatantly inflicts such self-harm in a ‘beggar not just thy neighbour, but also beggar thyself’ sort of way such as this”, he said.

Tesco’s plans, first advanced in autumn 2007, involve increasing the floor space by three quarters, with a much bigger range of non-food items. If allowed, the new superstore will stand on stilts, with spaces for over 600 cars, against under 400 now.

Stoke and Newcastle’s planning officers strongly recommended refusal as it conflicted with national, regional and the City’s own planning policies. There was no need for a huge new superstore, they said - and also resisted the layout and design.

The planning committee ignored the objections and in late October agreed a contribution from Tesco of £100,000 each to improve Stoke and Newcastle town centres. Planners, however, have said the money will not offset the harm to existing retailers in Stoke and Newcastle town centres.

Mr Farrelly has asked the Secretary of State to act because of the harm the superstore would cause and because Stoke has blatantly defied planning policies, including the ground-breaking, new Core Spatial Strategy agreed between the two local authorities.

That was finally adopted in October after four years’ joint work by the councils. Stoke’s decision on Tesco came just two weeks before the City adopted the strategy.

Newcastle’s MP also believes the decision – which he called an ‘aberration’ – undermines vital local regeneration and the position of the North Staffs Partnership, whose staff serve both Stoke Council and the wider area.

“Throughout this statutory document, the aims of targeting investment, including retail, into the strategic and major urban centres – Hanley and Newcastle; Longton, Tunstall, Burslem, Fenton and Stoke – are repeated and repeated,” Mr Farrelly said.

“After all this work, this decision…effectively undermines and makes a mockery of everyone’s efforts.

“One argument, which seems to have played a major part in swaying certain planning committee members, is Tesco’s statement that 180 jobs - full or part-time - would be created by this development.

“Along with Stoke’s officers and Newcastle Council, I find this self-serving, specious and short-sighted because of the impact this decision will have on existing retailers, on regeneration and on employment in the surrounding town centres.”

Mr Farrelly added: “Ad-hoc decisions, of which Tesco is just the latest example, continue to be made by small numbers on Stoke-on-Trent’s planning committee, which undermine and may well call into question millions of pounds of investment in regeneration.”

* To see a copy of Paul’s detailed submission to the Secretary of State, click on the PDF icon below.