COMMENT: Was Tesco planning application worth councillors rolling the dice?

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W26306H13OliPoole''Business Picture. Worthing Herald Business Reporter, Oli Poole. ENGSUS00120130620162236
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Tesco directors are unlikely to be chalking 2015 up as a memorable year after its £6.4 billion writedown.

But the retail giant notched a small victory locally last week as councillors approved plans for a Timpson key cutting and cobbler ‘pod’ at its Littlehampton store.

Arun District Council has been heavily criticised by traders, who fear the latest expansion will sound the death knell for similar businesses in the nearby town centre.

Canny entrepreneurs prepared a convincing objection, citing other towns which had bravely fought-off the food Goliath but were outraged to see councillors struggling to find suitable reasons to reject the application.

Planning by its very nature often leads to unpopular decisions. Committees are bound by strict guidelines governing what they can or cannot consider.

They cannot, for example, reject an application because of opposition to business competition – a key gripe for traders in Littlehampton.

But how did one town in Cornwall emerge victorious in its battle with the big boys?

Cornwall Council turned down an identical service in Launceston on the grounds it would ‘have a significant adverse impact on the vitality and viability’ of the town centre, using a section of the National Planning Policy Framework.

It had another ace up its sleeve, too, with its local plan reinforcing the key planning document.

Could Arun have done the same?

Providing evidence, or ‘reasons’, for a refusal are generally required to guard against costly appeals.

From the press desk, it appeared the committee felt it would need strong evidence, not speculation, that the new pod would damage trade – something they did not have to hand.

Cornwall’s refusal remains untested, with Tesco choosing not to question the decision. If it had, it would have been interesting to see if the council’s reasons held firm.

Without that assurance, I feel Arun would have been effectively rolling the dice to test if a similar refusal would hold water.

It chose not to risk it, deciding against staking potential loss of public funds if an appeal went against them.

A sensible decision in a tough financial climate, perhaps, but traders no-doubt feel their futures were worth a gamble.

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