Whilst Yeovil Town have been relaunching the promotion of their plans to build a new Food Store this week, the review and reaction to those plans has continued to be received by South Somerset District Council. On Monday, the SSDC Planning Department made known its assessment of the viability for the proposed supermarket development at Huish Park. Planning officials have considered the views and proposals put forward by the club and its development partner CDS Superstores International and their feedback against the application comes in the form of a six page fairly technical report (which can be seen in detail here) and indicates a number of obstacles in the way that the club must overcome.
For those have never got involved in a Planning Application, local Council planning departments aim to adhere to a number of local and national policies that are defined in order to provide both a strategy and consistent assessment of incoming applications. Doubtless most will have heard phrases like 'brownfield' sites and 'greenfield' sites mentioned in local and national news - the idea is that you build in areas that are already vacant in central areas, to stop a town sprawling across green countryside whilst its original town centre becomes a ghost town. Such policies are then documented. Two that have been used by SSDC Planning in this area include Saved Local Plan Policy MC2 and Saved Local Plan Policy MC3. The latter requires "out-of centre locations to undertake a sequential test to demonstrate that all preferred locations have been thoroughly assessed, and deemed unsuitable." In addition to the Planning Policy documents, the Planning department also refers to a number of reports that detail how the town looks today, along with projections for the future based on population and business sector changes. Two reports referred to by the Planning department include the South Somerset Core Strategy and the South Somerset Retail Study (2010).
As applicants, the development partners have responsibility to thoroughly research and illustrate that in-town locations are not suitable for their proposals and for what the town needs. The club claims that no alternative sites exist and that there is short-term need for further retail provision, but the SSDC Planning Report disagrees, as well as disputing that there is 'overtrading' by the current main food retailers. The report refers to vacant Peacock and Somerfield buildings as "ideal town centre supermarket premises" and notes that the club has only concentrated on the Cattle Market site out of all options available. On that location, the Planning report challenges the club claim that it is unsuitable, explaining that it at least offers potential for further exploration rather than rejection. Mention is also made of potential retail sites discounted by the applicant that were identified in the Retail Study report "which are in town centre or edge-of-centre locations."
The club has stressed in its application the need in Yeovil for another supermarket, referring especially to the large housing development around Thorne Lane (known as Brimsmore Key Site in planning circles) that has been given the go ahead. The Planning Report doesn't see it that way in their analysis, using figures in the Retail Study report, identified need for 1800 square metres of convenience retail floorspace by 2014 has almost been already met by the planning acceptances for 1700sqm on an extension to Morrisons and a deep discount store (eg: a Lidl/Aldi or similar type) on the former Southern Electric premises. There is expected need for a total of 4,000sqm by 2026, which means that when taking into account the 3,577sqm internal retail floorspace of the proposal (similar to the town's Asda) and adding it to the 1700sqm where planning permission is granted, that the Huish Park project would take the provision (almost) 1300sqm over what the town needs and over 20 years before it needed it. No surprises then that the planning assessment asks: "Given the identified need for additional floorspace in Yeovil, why are the applicants proposing such a large store, when there is no justification for it?"
The planning department has even more to observe on local needs for retail stores. As well as expressing a view that the town has a qualitative provision (adequate range of good standard stores), it refers to Core Study report to comment further about the quantitative provision (volume of stores). With Yeovil being the prominent retail town in South Somerset, the council have taken steps to maintain the retail strength of its less populated neighbouring towns in the area, by putting upper limits on increased convenience retailing floor space in the town. The provisions for 2014 (1800sqm) and 2026 (4000sqm) can be added to by another which is 2021 (3100sqm). These can be viewed as both targets and limits, as the council aims to maintain Yeovil's retail strength on the one hand, but on the other to protect the strength in the smaller locations of its governance, named examples are: Martock, South Petherton and Stoke Sub Hamdon.
There is also disagreement with the degree that current town centre trading would be affected. It concludes that the club's Retail Impact Assessment has not sufficiently explored and evaluated the effect on existing town centre stores; being too selective in its research material and generating its own more-optimistic figures without showing the basis of those calculations. It stresses "the PPS4 Companion Guide is clear ... where a development is on the edge (of a town) ... the development may undermine investment or harm the vitality and viability of a nearby town", referring to the Government's national Planning Policy Statement 4 (PPS4) policy framework. Also quoted is the above-mentioned Retail Study report: "... estimates of 'surplus' expenditure may over estimate the need for additional provision, as there is no substantial evidence of overcrowding or congestion in existing stores or universal 'overtrading' against company benchmark across all stores in the town."
The planning report also questions the number of jobs that would be created, stating that based on the floor space, and a mathematical rule of thumb, that in the region of 188 jobs would be created. This is lower than the planning application's suggestion of 300-377 jobs - it should be pointed out that this week Chris Dawson mentions "the supermarket itself will create 150 jobs" which is much closer to the Planning report's estimates. Mr Dawson does in his interview refer to potential future jobs that might be created within the football club as part of any future plans that the club may have, but as these haven't been submitted to the Council yet, they can't be included in any assessment.
The report also states that the application is contrary to Saved Local Plan CR1 "which seeks alternative provision of equal community benefit" because whilst the club mention that they plan to move the training facilities (including pitches available for public use) to another suitable Brympton location, there is no land currently identified. This is similar to a problem that League One Oldham Athletic encountered with their attempts plan for a new stadium in Failsworth - their local council insisted that the Latics made equivalent alternative community land available before they would accept their plans, rather than just taking it on blind faith that this alternative space would eventually be provided. Thus it would appear that the club will need to identify such land and include it as a linked application to provide the community pitches before the Planning department will allow them to build on the existing pitches.
Similarly, the report notes that there is no detail to show how the development will benefit the long-term security of the football club. They don't detail this as an absolute show-stopper, but note that "the statement suggests that the development is part of the long-term future of the football club but ... it is not clear how or why enabling development is required or be implemented." As an aside, on Tuesday Chairman John Fry said "we need about seven million pounds" to complete the club's stadium developments, while the ITV West Country bulletin on the previous night talked of a potential two million pound gain, although they didn't say where they had sourced that from. It implies that even if the Food Store gets approval, that the club will still be financially short on what they want to achieve.
In summary, the Planning department appraisal is that the application as "not robust" in regard to firstly the sequential test because there are central sites "suitable, available and viable for the defined need identified in the retail study", and secondly on the Impact Assessment which they are not convinced by. The application is not deemed to be in step with both a local vision for the future nor national policy, and has not clarified how the club would benefit or how it would provide alternative training pitches/open spaces. The report therefore concludes that the application as it stands is contrary to Saved Local Plan Policies MC2, MC3, CR1, and the National Guidelines covered in PPS4.
Turning this back into more straight-forward English, the Planning view is that there are more suitable locations for the Food Store development in or around the town centre, or that at least that these preferred locations have not been adequately considered. They also state that the development will effect the trade in existing town centre stores. In addition they want the club to provide locations (and associated planning application) for the replacements for the training pitches. The club will need to either address those issues, or provide further justification as to why those planning policies can be bypassed.
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