Welcome to my internet diary... I am 30 years old, I'm a local Thetford Town Councillor and a Breckland Councillor - representing the Burrell Ward and I am Leader of the Labour Group on Breckland Council, I am also a Norfolk County Councillor representing the Thetford-West division. Editor of the About Thetford magazine and Park Run attendee. I am a passionate community activist and Thetford born and bred.
Thursday, 14 February 2013
Thetford Supermarket battle - Round 2
THETFORD SUPERMARKET BATTLE
- ROUND 2!
It didn't take too long for the Thetford supermarket battle to go
back into the ring and the matter was duly debated, and decided upon at Monday’s meeting of the Breckland Council Planning Committee (11th Feb
You may recall that I previously wrote at length about my concerns
regarding both proposals and by the way in which the
Planning Committee seemed so dysfunctional in their handling of the matter.
This time around, I did not need to attend as a Substitute member
of the Planning Committee as Sylvia Armes was attending, but I did register to
speak as a Ward Member as the Asda store would have been built in the ward that
I represent. I therefore spent a lot of time consulting with people about their
thoughts in relation to a further supermarket. This is not a clear cut issue,
so I wanted to gauge as much public opinion as possible. Most, that is, greater
than 80% (if not more) of everybody that I spoke to, including comments
received through Facebook, were in favour of a further supermarket, and in
particular, in favour of the Asda proposal for the London Road site (perhaps my
Facebook 'friends' simply prefer Asda over Morrisons? so it is perhaps not
scientific, or representative, but indicative?).
Now, I am no fan of Asda - like all major supermarkets I consider
their treatment of suppliers to be unethical and indeed unsustainable (think
recent horse-meat scandal?) and their anti-union approach and terms &
conditions available to staff is of grave concern - (see this report by GMB and
War on Want re: Walmart - Asda's parent company for info - http://walmart.3cdn.net/8a5a593b0364107c2e_orm6i7o55.pdf) but, it's a supermarket, so we know all this. I would just point
out that I would not be so hypocritical not to acknowledge that I do on the odd
occasion shop in Asda, and indeed Morrisons; there is an Asda store in Bury St
Edmunds so sometimes myself and friends will stop off there and similarly there
is a Morrisons in Diss and if we happen to be nearby we will stop there.
Morrisons proposal for Thetford Enterprise Park
Regarding the two
applications; The Morrisons (i.e.
Breckland Council / Pigeon / Crown Estate backed proposal) for the Thetford
Enterprise Park just off the Mundford Road had changed little, if at all from
the first time around. The fundamental flaw with the proposal was/is that it is
going on land designated for the Thetford Enterprise Park (TEP), i.e. somewhere
where as a town we can take advantage of our proximity to Cambridge, Norwich,
Hethel, Snetterton and that particular sites closeness to the dual carriageway
and encourage some high tech businesses to locate here, perhaps engineering
jobs or the like. The supermarket would consume at least 22% of the entire site
- also, consider this - once the supermarket goes on there, how much easier
would it be for other retailers to be located there? How about a TK Maxx
popping up, or a PC World next door? I am told that the vast majority of the
Crown Estates portfolio across the UK is 'out of town retail'. This supermarket
itself would also have a negative effect on the High Street. 'NLP' -
consultants to Breckland Council on these matters, said that the supermarkets
would result in 20% less expenditure in the High Street. Note: this also
includes however a reduction in expenditure for Iceland & Aldi in terms of
less money spent on food here as they are classed as 'Town Centre'. The site is
completely out on a limb from anywhere else. It will not be easily accessible
by foot - either by employees or customers, very difficult to access by
bicycle, and currently no bus service accessing anywhere nearby. Linkages to
the High Street would be limited - i.e. when people go to do their shopping at
the supermarket, it would be great to encourage them to also pop into the High
Street etc. but this would be unlikely at this site.
Strangely, I received no paperwork from Pigeon/Crown Estate
encouraging me to support their application the second time around. And I
cannot remember receiving anything the first time around although Pigeon and
the Crown did attend a Town Council meeting to brief Councillors, which I
The argument that the supermarket will service the new housing to
the north is also deeply flawed. The growth to the North is to be spread over
the next 15 – 20 years, perhaps even longer – it will depend on economic
conditions and demand. Much may never happen –“it is a blueprint for growth” I am told repeatedly. The initial phases of development will be
almost immediately next door to Tesco, so their needs would have been catered
for adequately I would have thought? Interestingly, Tescos floor space
currently would have equalled Sainsburys, Lidl and Asda combined if Asda had
been approved and Lidl was developed.
On the positive side - the primary argument in support of the site being agreed to is
that in theory at least, it has the potential to unlock the enterprise site for
development, that is, the supermarket will lead the way in terms of putting in
initial infrastructure to make the rest of the site more viable, and appealing
to prospective developers. Infrastructure including a new roadway partly into
the site and connecting electricity from the Wyatt Way sub-station to the
Thetford Enterprise Park which is obviously a considerable cost.
Asda proposal for Tulip site, London Road
Regarding the Asda proposal (i.e. Location 3 Properties), they too wanted to build on land
designated for industry / manufacturing - although the Tulip site is currently
redundant, and a bit of an eyesore on the main road through town - so a
brownfield site would have been regenerated by the plans. As the Planning
Officers said on Monday, it’s a judgement call by Councillors, but arguably the Enterprise
Park is of much greater strategic value to the town than the land at the Tulip
site and there is a plentiful supply of land available for the type of
manufacturing / industry at the Tulip site.
The Asda store would have been within walking distance for
practically everybody living on the Barnham Cross Estate, and Redcastle Furze
Estate i.e. 5,000 people and the London Road is already an established footway
along the town from Sainsbury’s right through to the other side with people already walking up
and down the road - easy access by foot for potential employees and shoppers.
The London Road is already part of an existing bus route - and could have been
developed further to include more frequent trips into the Town Centre, for example.
Whereas the Morrisons proposal would have contributed money to
improve the Enterprise Park site as part of their Section 106 contributions,
the Asda proposal would have set aside £200,000 to support high street businesses – that is, by helping to subsidise rents and rates, provide
business start-up grants etc. and Breckland’s own Economic Development
Team could have advised on this, as could the Town Council and Sort It. They
would have also set aside £100,000 for other Town Centre improvements, e.g. improving the
appearance of the Town Centre through enhancements - all welcomed expenditure
to go someway towards mitigating the affects of the supermarket (the Asda
proposal, like the Morrisons one, would have resulted in 20% less expenditure
in the High Street).
Further to this, the backers of Asda had pledged to commit to a
local recruitment plan - i.e. all 250+ jobs would have been guaranteed for
local people, with many coming from the Saxon Ward (i.e. the area that I
represent on the Council). Further, Asda had pledged to commit to selling no
white goods at the site, which was a major plus, and good news for some high
street retailers at least - e.g. Hughes Electrical I'm sure, and Cobra Domestic
Appliances). The Morrisons site measured 3,436 sq feet as well, whereas Asda was
a bit smaller at 3,149 sq feet. The Morrisons site wanted a 75% to 25% split between food and non-food sales and Asda wanted 65% to 35% so the TEP site proposal was better in this regard, although given it was larger, this would have been cancelled out.
Rather crucially for me at least, if Asda went ahead, they would
not have been able to expand as the site is penned in all around so you know
what you are getting in a way - the Morrisons site however, being greenfield,
could of course expand in due course - and it is already going to be bigger
than Asda would have been.
However, Asda had amended their plans to accommodate the
opportunity for 2 Sisters Food Group to expand and Asda would have paid for
some of the infrastructure to enable this to occur. The exact details of this I
am unsure about and don't fully understand, but it seemed like welcomed news to
I had previously raised concerns about traffic issues,
particularly along the London Road and indeed several committee members
referred to this and I am sure that it factored against Asda. However, they
pledged to fund a new traffic light system at the Caxton Way / London Road
junction that was welcomed by businesses based in this location.
So what happened? Naturally, the Committee voted overwhelmingly, something like 10
- 0 to support the Morrisons proposal and dismiss the Asda proposal. Two of
those being from two members of the Planning Committee that also represent the
The Committees reasoning? Because the Morrisons proposal will unlock the Enterprise Park.
The Town must dearly pray that it unlocks it for enterprise, not further
retail, or this will really be the end of the High Street.
The Committee did themselves no favours, by appearing to
be utterly dysfunctional - as I heard one person outside say "I have never
seen such an appalling Planning Committee in my thirty years in the profession
across the country". Something for the Breckland Conservative group to
ponder giving 10 of the 12 members of the committee are Conservatives!
It was a complete
turnaround from the last time the pro sales were considered when neither store
was supported although members raised just a few points in opposition. This
time a succession of Conservative Councillors raised criticism of Asda and
spoke in favour of the site - it appeared to me as if they were justifying a
decision that had already been made. I'm no expert, but aren't Planning
Committee supposed to have an open mind? Judge what's in front of them - to
scrutinise proposals, probe representatives. Representatives whom on Monday were
barely allowed to speak, or even reply to misleading statements or answer
questions that one must assume were merely rhetorical.
Addressing some of the direct points that have
been raised with me:
"How can you support Asda, when Thetford Town Council voted
to not support either location?" I
attended the Breckland Planning meeting as a Breckland Councillor and as Ward
rep for Saxon Ward. Susan Glossop attended as the Acting Town Clerk to give the
collective view of Thetford Town Council. The primary Town Council objection
being the loss of manufacturing / employment land with both proposals - a point
I agree with. However, Councillors are not limited to merely reiterating the
collective view of the Council they sit on, they have a duty to their individual
ward and electorate - imagine if I had to trot out the Breckland line all the
time? I'd rather think for myself. I do recognise that there is somewhat a
difficulty for those people that sit on more than one Council, as I do (and 7
other Town Councillors who are also District Councillors - 2 of which not only
supported the Morrisons proposal, but voted for it, knowing the Town Council
objected to it).
"Why did you change from not supporting either application,
to supporting Asda?" Primarily, as I hope the
text above explains, the Asda proposal changed and improved - they had taken on
board many of the concerns that I personally raised initially and it was a much
better proposal than the Morrisons one, and there was a very real likelihood
that one application would be successful, so I wanted to make clear that I
preferred the Asda one over Morrisons as it would have been far better for the
town. I'd much rather see people use the supermarkets that we have and see
massive investment occur in the Town Centre. I'd much rather see the Enterprise
Park used for its intended purpose and a manufacturing business take up the
Tulip site, but that’s not the Utopia we live in and as Councillors we have to weigh
things up and ultimately make a decision, knowing full well that we will never
"How is it right that a Conservative controlled Breckland
Planning Committee decide upon a Planning Application led by an organisation,
i.e. Pigeon, that is run by somebody so immersed in the local Conservative
Party, i.e. William Van Cutsem?" I have
no idea but I am sure to many it looks very odd.
Particularly ironic of course given that a couple of people
accused me of bias and not declaring a pecuniary interest in relation to
"Asda giving Sort It £200k" - errrm no they are not, they were saying that they
would ask Sort It, as a collective body, to advise on where a £200k fund could be best utilised to support the Town Centre, in
the same way that they were asking the Town Council to do this, and Breckland.
To insinuate, no actually, to say that my support for Asda was because of this
is somewhat insulting - to say that I would sway my thoughts regarding what is
best for Thetford in such a regard - I am guided by what I feel is best for the
town in which I was born, and love dearly. Can all Councillors say the same?
is also perhaps noteworthy to acknowledge the additional attendees at Mondays
Planning meeting; in the audience, sat next to the people representing
Crown/Pigeon/Morrisons was William Nunn, Leader of Breckland Council, Michael
Wassell, Deputy Leader, Mark Kiddle-Morris – Cabinet Member for Assets – perhaps co-incidence, but worthy of note.