Tesco's dramatic last ditch bid to be allowed to build superstore NEXT to Sainsbury's at Whittlesey

PUBLISHED: 17:31 18 September 2012 | UPDATED: 18:10 18 September 2012

Tesco plans for a store in Whittlesey. The Eastrea Road Site.

Tesco plans for a store in Whittlesey. The Eastrea Road Site.

Archant

THE hunt was on tonight to find a Fenland councillor willing to propose that Tesco should be allowed to keep alive its bid for a new superstore at Eastrea.

One councillor’s name was suggested to me tonight as being likely to recommend the second chance option for Tesco but whether that person finds a seconder remains doubtful.

On the eve of tomorrow’s vital meeting of Fenland District Council Planning Committee, Tesco’s corporate affairs department has called for a councillor- any councillor- to propose they be given a second chance.

In a remarkable letter sent to all committee members, corporate affairs spokesman Louise Gosling warns that should Tesco appeal against the rejection of their Eastrea scheme it could prove “extremely expensive, not only for us but also for the council and, ultimately, your tax payers”.

Sainsbury’s won approval for their Eastrea scheme and Tesco’s, who already have consent for a Station Road store, was refused permission for an Eastrea store next to Sainsbury’s.

Full letter from Tesco corporate affairs to Fenland councillors tonight

Dear Councillor,

Proposed Tesco Store at Eastrea Road, Whittlesey – Application Ref: F/YR11/0482/F

You may remember that I presented to you on behalf of Tesco at the District Council Planning Committee in Whittlesey last month. I hope you don’t mind me contacting you directly, but I wanted to make you aware of our position following the resolution to refuse our proposals, against your officers’ recommendation.

Obviously, we are disappointed with the result and having consulted our legal advisers, we believe there are strong grounds for us to appeal. However, this is not a route we would like to take as it would be extremely expensive, not only for us, but also for the Council and ultimately, your tax payers.

Therefore, I wanted to propose an alternative form of action for your consideration, but first I will outline exactly why we believe mistakes were made at the last committee:

We believe the decision on our application was made in error, as members were inadvertently misled on technical matters.

The reason to refuse our proposals focused on the mistaken belief that the Harrier Eastrea Road site was suitable for residential development. This assumption was wrong as there was an error in the Committee Report.

To be clear, there is no existing planning permission for 69 homes on the site. In actual fact the permission referred to relates to an entirely separate site, located approximately 500 metres to the west of Harrier’s site. This was confirmed by the Planning Inspector and the Secretary of State who dismissed the site as a residential scheme in 2004.

Harrier’s Eastrea Road site is not allocated for residential development in the draft Core Strategy. Instead, Harrier’s site, together with land to the north of Eastrea Road (the Larkfleet site) and land to the south (owned by house builder Taylor Wimpey), is identified as a ‘Strategic Allocation’, with the land to the south of Eastrea Road being identified (in draft Policy CS9) as being suitable to “accommodate a mix of uses including residential.” There is room at the back of the Harrier site to accommodate 63 houses if necessary. Therefore it is entirely compliant with the draft Core Strategy.

Whilst we appreciate the difficult decisions the Committee has to make, in this instance, it seems the single reason why members resolved to refuse our proposal, was based on erroneous planning history information and misinterpreted draft planning policy. Given these circumstances it is not surprising that members struggled to reach a decision. However, now that the facts are clear, I would like to propose members take a fresh view.

As you know our planning application (which is being run by Harrier Development’s on our behalf) is being taken back to this Wednesday’s Planning Committee, alongside the applications by Sainsbury and Whitacre Development. At the last committee meeting it was apparent that several members supported the idea of consenting both the Tesco and the Sainsbury’s schemes together. My suggestion is that the committee could achieve this if any member were to propose that the Harrier application should be reconsidered. This would prevent the need for a costly appeal and would provide the people of Whittlesey with a £250,000 contribution to enhance the town centre. This, alongside the contribution from Sainsbury’s, would amount to a considerable package of town centre improvements. However, our contribution does not exist on the Station Road site, and your officers have confirmed, we are contractually obliged to open there if the Eastrea Road plans do not go ahead.

Finally, it is worth noting that Sainsbury’s appear unwilling to make a significant financial contribution towards improving the town centre. We believe the Council would be wrong to let two foodstores come forward without both making financial commitments to assisting the town centre.

I trust you will take these points into account when reconsidering our application on Wednesday. If you require any further information in the meantime, please let me know. Otherwise, I look forward to hearing the result of your discussions.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Gosling

Tesco Corporate Affairs

Tel: 01992 646 786

Mob: 07720 311 858

www.tesco.com

Ms Gosling said that “obviously” Tesco was disappointed and having taken advice was confident of strong grounds to appeal.

She claims rejection of Tesco’s application “was made in error as members were inadvertently misled on technical matters”.

She argued that Harrier Developments – the Manea company run by Richard Sears and who had spearheaded their bid- had seen their proposals rejected on “erroneous planning history information and misinterpreted draft planning policy.

“Given these circumstances it is not surprising that members struggled to reach a decision.

“However, now that the facts are clear, I would like to propose members take a fresh view”.

Ms Gosling says that at the last meeting “several” members supported the idea of giving permission to both stores and this is what Tesco was now suggesting.

However it is thought unlikely the committee will back a renewed bid by Tesco and for two principal reasons, firstly that two large stores could wreck the town centre and secondly that the infrastructure is not there to support both.

It is also thought the Tesco site is best suited to bring forward for housing.

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