Monday, November 27, 2006

Supermarket sized U-turn

In Powys this week we are witnessing one of the most humiliating U-turns by a planning authority that I have ever seen. On Friday the Powys Local Planning Authority is being recommended to grant planning permission for a new supermarket for Lidl UK in Newtown, Mid-Wales. This follows many months of implacable opposition to the development - to the extent that Lidl UK was forced to appeal to the National Assembly on the basis of non-determination. Perhaps it is only a coincidence but the BBC's Dragon's Eye programme covered this issue 10 days ago!!

The story so far. Lidl UK put in an application to build a supermarket on the JT Hughes site in Newtown around a year ago. After months of no worthwhile progress, Lidl UK appealed to the Assembly on non-determination grounds - and submitted another similar application at the same time. For months there has been stalemate.

The Council's implacable opposition had been based on two grounds. Firstly, and I concede that I had some sympathy with this, the traffic consequences were unacceptable. The second reason which I thought totally spurious was that the proposed Lidl site was not 'sequentially' the best location for retailing. The Planning Authority went so far as to employ consultants to argue this case for them. (It is a pure coincidence that the 'sequential' site is a piece of land in the Council's ownership which it is rumoured to have provisionally sold to Tesco for £7million.)

The whole issue is tangled up with another proposed supermarket development, 14 miles down the road on the livestock market at Welshpool, where the Council has also been accused of 'dragging its feet'. I do not know how much truth there is in this. It seems that the same consultants are advising the Council that some of the catchment area for the proposed Welshpool development should be regarded as part of the catchment area of the site in the Council's ownership at Newtown, seriously undermining the viability of the Welshpool proposal. Following this week's spectacular U-turn over the Lidl development, can we expect some movement on the Welshpool site now? I only ask the question.

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