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Birmingham planners may face legal challenge after backing Sainsbury’s superstore scheme

Birmingham planners may face legal challenge after backing Sainsbury’s superstore scheme

🕔12.Apr 2012

Sainsbury's Active Kids banner at a school in ...

The effectiveness of planning legislation which the Government claimed would protect town centre shops is likely to be challenged in the High Court after Sainsbury’s was told it could open another Birmingham superstore.

City council planning officials face a possible judicial review after rejecting protests from the owners of the Central Square shopping centre in Erdington that the arrival of the retail giant would jeopardise the future of existing shops and of the suburban shopping centre itself.

The row, if it goes to court, could act as a test case and have implications for other out-of-town sites in Birmingham where major retail operators are believed to be considering lodging development applications.

Councillors on the Planning Committee agreed in principle to Sainsbury’s proposal for a 4,658 sq m store, three other shops and a 383-space car park on land in Sutton Road, which is outside of Erdington town centre.

Under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which came into force on April 1, councils can only give permission for major retail development on the outskirts of towns if it can be shown that no other suitable site exists closer to the town centre.

The NPPF also requires applicants for new retail development to produce studies showing the impact that their proposals will have on local shops over a 10-year period. Senior city planning officers admitted that they did not know whether such a study had been carried out by Sainsbury’s.

New River Retail Ltd, owners of the Central Square shopping centre, insist that they are on the verge of bringing forward a redevelopment proposal to build a 4,600 sq m foodstore on the Central Square site.

Allan Lockhart, a New River Retail director, said a report drawn up by city council planning officers recommending approval for the Sainsbury’s scheme was “defective in a number of respects”.

Mr Lockhart added: “New River is one of the UK’s leading real estate companies and we have a £275 million portfolio. We have a deep commitment to town centres and Erdington is very much part of the programme.”

Claims by the council that the Central Square shopping centre was not viable were incorrect. Mr Lockhart said his company had a “full development team” in place and was ready to submit a planning application for a new foodstore.

He added: “We have no desire to pursue this matter in the High Court, but we are ready to go down that route if necessary.”

Government guidance to the NPPF states that development should only take place on edge-of-town-centre sites when it can be shown that no other “viable” sites in the town centre are available.

The guidance continues: “Planning authorities should apply a sequential test to applications for main town centre uses that are not in an existing centre and are not in accordance with an up-to-date Local Plan. They should require applications for main town centre uses to be located in town centres, then in edge of centre locations and only if suitable sites are not available should out of centre sites be considered.”

City planning officer Tracy Humphreys said she was confident that the council had followed all of the procedures laid down in the NPPF. She accepted that the new Sainsbury’s store would be close to three other superstores – Asda at Minworth, Tesco at New Oscott and Sainsbury at Castle Vale – but all of the stores would retain a “healthy customer base”, she insisted.

However, planning committee member Coun Barry Henley (Lab Brandwood) said: “We have to take the threat of a judicial review very seriously. We are going to shift things away from the town centre, it’s going to be a major development, and there has to be a 10-year assessment.

“If we don’t do this, we will be overturned when it comes to court.”

Committee members voted that they were minded to give Sainsbury’s approval, as long as the store could produce a 10-year impact assessment and agree financial contributions under a Section 106 agreement.

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