Monday, 29 October 2012

My comments re: Asda to Breckland Council Planning Committee - 29th October 2012

Breckland Council: Planning Committee – 29th October 2012

Over the past few years we have seen the redevelopment of several areas along this particular stretch of the London Road in Thetford. The aesthetic improvements are of course welcomed as are the obvious economic benefits. But whilst there are many that support another supermarket for Thetford, somewhat fewer residents would agree that putting a further large supermarket in this particular location would be ideal. The former Tulip site is within close proximity to the existing Sainsbury’s store, and it will be very close to the Lidl store that has already been granted planning permission. The Forest Retail Park is also just along the road. There is a distinct difference with this proposal and what was agreed with the Lidl store as the percentage of food retailing is much greater with Lidl, and therefore the affect on comparable goods (i.e. non food) would be significantly reduced. The Tulip site is also some distance from the main Thetford Town Centre. Positioning a further supermarket at this end of the town would only make worse the traffic problems along the London Road and at key junctions, particularly the Bury Road / Brandon Road junction and the junction with Burrell Way / Kimms Belt. In theory this store could service many of the new residents for the town linked with the Sustainable Urban Extension (SUE), but with growth almost exclusively planned for the North, it would seem illogical to build a further supermarket in the South; residents travelling across town to access either the Sainsbury’s store or the proposed new store would create traffic issues across the town, and this is not a step towards the sustainable Thetford that we seek. I am not an expert in planning matters, but I read with interest the sequential test submitted as part of this application and I did not consider this to be particularly thorough or convincing. I also read with note page 3 of the Effective Transport Solutions report which highlights the problems with accessing the site by foot and how despite being physically close to the site, residents of the Barnham Cross Estate are hampered from accessing the site easily, or safely as they need to negotiate through the Burrell Way industrial estate – an existing issue not just for shoppers, but future employees – many of which would be likely to live in this area.
It perhaps goes without saying that many people also have concerns about this proposals potential impact on Thetford Town Centre – a point conceded by NLP in the report submitted. Whereas competition in relation to food and petrol would be welcomed by many in Thetford to help drive down prices, there is very real concern that if planning permission is granted this supermarket could further undermine Thetford’s high street that is already experiencing a shop vacancy rate of around 16%. It is obvious of course that the lower the percentage of non-food goods that this store sells the less of an impact its construction would have on the high street. I am also unconvinced as to what extent this application would stop leakage out of the town in expenditure terms and I note that there is a question mark hanging over the analysis of the current situation in this regard.
My primary concern however is in relation to the loss of manufacturing land. We’ve gradually seen land in Thetford designated for manufacturing consumed over time by retail – I believe it is important that as a town we have a mix of employment types. Committee members may not have noted the correspondence by Indigo on behalf of the Two Sisters Food Group which amongst other things stated their requests to purchase the site on three occasions and their continued interest in the site. The fact that a major manufacturing employer is keen to expand in Thetford in this current economic climate is to be welcomed. It would be highly unfortunate if we were to find ourselves in a situation where we had manufacturing businesses wishing to expand, or relocate to Thetford in the future and we suddenly find that we do not have the land for them to do so.

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