Ref: Planning Application 2011/03485/PA (Land off Pershore Road/Fordhouse Lane Former Arvin Meritor Works Stirchley Birmingham B30 3BW)
Having studied the planning documents for the above application, please find below our comments on the development.
Car Parking & Traffic
The proposed Asda, combined with the already approved Tesco will drastically increase traffic along the already congested arterial route of the Pershore Road as well as surrounding side roads. The proposals include provision for 398 car parking spaces, so will therefore generate a substantial amount of additional road traffic, resulting in increased congestion, noise and air pollution, carbon emissions and reduced road safety, and hence increased risk of accidents. We feel that this will have an impact on local air quality, safety of pedestrians particularly local school children, and the viability of the Pershore Road corridor as a ‘smart route’, friendly to public transport users, cyclists, and pedestrians.
We are also greatly concerned about Asda’s own transport assessments that show significant increases in travel time on some local routes despite their mitigation efforts and do not take into account back roads that may be used to avoid new signalised junctions. Asda’s data is also based on assumptions that are in turn based on assumptions from the Tesco application. We would therefore insist on full scrutiny of the Transport Assessment by an independent body to ensure its accuracy, as our experience leads us to believe that many of these studies prove to be overly optimistic in their negative impacts.
The road layout for the application has one of the main car park entrances off the Pershore Road, the arrangement of which forces pedestrians walking from the main shopping area of Stirchley to cross this entrance, which is both dangerous and off putting to pedestrians trying to access the proposed Asda from the ‘high street’, as the proposal suggests they will. Likewise, with people parking so far from the high street, there is very poor connectivity for pedestrians going from the supermarket to other shops, so this is likely to discourage such activity.
The proposed Asda is located on the Southern outside edge of the current Stirchley ‘high street’ and cannot be considered to be within the established retail centre. The Birmingham UDP, the Stirchley Framework SPD and draft Core Strategy (LDF) recognise that Stirchley ‘high street’ is currently very long and under occupied and therefore they contain a plan to consolidate the retail core towards the Northern Hazelwell Lane end of the ‘high street’ to create a sustainable centre. As such the Tesco development in the Hazelwell Lane was granted permission in line with this policy, and the long established Co-op is also located in this area.
The proposed Asda is therefore contrary to this policy and risks undermining the long planned consolidation of the to retail core into a sustainable and vibrant centre. The notion that shoppers will somehow walk between the two ends of the ‘high street’ to and from each ‘anchor’ supermarket whilst calling in at the smaller shops along the way is frankly unrealistic.
Site Design Issues
The design of the Asda scheme is poor and fails to address the street. The store itself is set back from the street (as Asda cannot gain the properties on the street frontage), therefore forcing the need for a very low quality public access route to the store entrance which crudely cuts through the established building line. This space is optimistically referred to as a ‘public square’, when it is merely a passageway. Not following the established building line is contrary to the Birmingham UDP, the Stitchley Framework SPD and draft Core Strategy LDF.
We feel that before any decision is made on the application, the scheme is referred to CABE (Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment) for a full design review.
The design does not connect the store to the local high street, meaning it will have a negative impact on trade and attempts to rejuvenate the area. The loss of high street parking, the three-lane vehicular access from the Pershore road and consequent poor pedestrian access to the site from the high street are also of concern (as mentioned in the car parking and traffic section).
Proof Of Need
With the existing Co-op supermarket and approved Tesco, there will be considerable supermarket provision in Stirchley, and therefore we would question whether another supermarket is required. This needs to be fully proved and independently scrutinised. The land could be used for more pressing requirements such as employment, housing or leisure as identified in the draft Core Strategy LDF (s10): “Outside the [retail] core encouragement will be given to conversion and redevelopment for high quality residential, office and non retail uses.”
Loss Of Employment Land
The proposals, if granted permission, will result in the loss of a significant site for employment use, a use that would generally provide a greater number of skilled, well paid, full time positions, compared with the low skilled, low paid, largely part-time positions offered by most supermarkets.
As Asda have already agreed to purchase all the land they require, if planning permission is granted, then the store could feasibly be completed before work is begun on the approved Tesco development at the opposite end of the ‘high street’ (given that Tesco is still assembling land through CPO with the council). The Tesco development is committed to providing a number of much-needed community benefits in the form of a new social club and the refurbishment and conversion of the decaying but historic Stirchley Baths into a community centre. The Asda development therefore poses a significant risk to the delivery of the Tesco development and its associated community assets.
A local precedent for refusing permission to a rival supermarket exists within Birmingham, with the recent applications on Bristol Street, where there were rival supermarkets on either side of the road. The council eventually gave their support to the Park Central scheme proposed by Crest Nicholson, Asda & Optima Community Association, as it contained significant community benefits in the form of social and affordable housing, a rooftop park, and would support the new community taking shape in the Park Central regeneration area. This decision was taken to public enquiry which also came down on the side of the Park Central scheme on the grounds of community benefits. This decision was further confirmed in early June this year when an extension to the planning approval was granted by the council over the rival Tesco scheme again.
We would urge the council to see the wider benefits of the already approved Tesco development over the proposed Asda scheme, and therefore reject Asda’s application.
The local economic impact
Along with the loss of parking spaces, the high volume of car traffic will impede the local businesses’ ability to trade, not only in Stirchley, but also in Bournville, Cotteridge, Selly Park, and Kings Heath. We feel the food retail element of the proposals is contrary to PPS4, as it will also affect the vitality and viability of these shopping centres due to it being a large enough size (and designed in a way that means it does not connect with other retail spaces) to divert trade from the “core” at the other end of the high street, as well as other nearby centres.
A large superstore such as that proposed is very likely to sell products that directly compete with the current shops in Stirchley and other local centres, and as such these will all be likely to suffer negative affects to a greater or lesser extent. As an example an edge of centre supermarket in Fakenham diverted between 3.7 to 18.9% of trade from existing comparison retailers. Overall, this will undoubtedly affect the vitality of the existing Stirchley retail core, and is likely to negatively affect its viability and retail offer which is a PPS4 impact factor. Evidence shows that even a small, just 5% or less, diversion of trade from independent shops can cause their failure, by which time it is often to late to rescue them.
As well as PPS4, the Birmingham UDP paragraphs 7.13 – 7.16, 7.23A & 7.27 state that new retail development should be focused around existing established centres, with encouragement for developments that are well integrated with the existing shops. Paragraph 7.23A adds that new retail development should not significantly effect the viability and vitality of the existing centre as a whole.
The developers also claim that 300 new jobs will be created as a result of the proposed superstore, however this does not take into account the likely loss of jobs from local independent retailers whose business will be lost to the new superstore. A 1998 study by the National Retailer Planning Forum (NRPF) examining the employment impacts of 93 superstore openings between 1991 and 1994 found that they resulted in a net loss of more than 25,000 jobs or 276 per store opened. Given that a large proportion of the proposed jobs created would be part time, it would be likely that there would be no net change in employment numbers as a result of the superstore.
We would therefore insist on full scrutiny of the Retail Assessment by an independent body to ensure its accuracy.
If the application is somehow assumed to comply with PPS 4 and UDP paragraphs 7.13 – 7.16, 7.23A & 7.27 then careful use should be made of the following policy to ensure that negative impacts are mitigated: “Policy EC19.1d) Local planning authorities should make effective use of planning conditions to implement their policies and proactively manage the impacts of development by imposing planning conditions to: “limit the range of goods sold, and to control the mix of convenience and comparison goods”. However, we are very definitely of the opinion that such conditions would not mitigate sufficiently against the likely negative impacts, and very importantly the evidence points to the fact that this scheme is not supported by these policies.
We believe that the application should be refused on the grounds that it will have a large negative impact on the local economy, traffic congestion, road safety, environmental pollution and residents’ amenity. We would urge the council to refuse the proposals for the reasons highlighted above. If the committee are considering approval, we would suggest that the impact assessments that have been done so far are inadequate and there should be a full independent assessments of the environmental, traffic, retail and design aspects of this development.