Saturday, 12 December 2009

Broadmead German Market: Planning Department turning blind eye to Council’s rule breaking?

Throughout the new Bristol City FC stadium planning process and especially where the proposed new supermarket at Ashton Gate is concerned, Bristol City Council has gone to great pains to claim that as a planning authority their work and decisions are entirely independent from their own political, personal or corporate agenda. They even describe the city's planning process as "quasi-judicial".

So it is instructional to see how they apply this independent, "quasi-judicial process" to themselves. A Parliamentary note placed in the House of Commons library on 9 December 2008 (and updated April 2009) sets out their obligations clearly:

“The general principle underlying the 1992 regulations is that local planning authorities must make planning applications in the same way as any other person, and must apply for planning permission. Except in special circumstances, they must follow the same procedures as would apply to applications made by anyone else.” - SN/SC/1195 available here (pdf)

Meanwhile on the council's website:

“BCC is taking a pragmatic approach in terms of planning permission. Taking into account DCLG guidance, BCC will not request planning permission for ‘temporary’ uses for up to 28 days. All ‘temporary’ changes of use of more than 28 days will need planning permission.”
Application Guidance Notes: Empty Shops and Promotion Initiative (pdf)

So how have Bristol City Council, as the local planning authority, interpreted these clear rules in relation to their own 'temporary' German Christmas Market in Broadmead? Advertising for the event says it runs from 12 November to 20 December (38 days), which means that the council is obliged to obtain planning permission for the market.

If you have a look at the council's planning website, the market is indeed listed on there, although surprisingly it is still 'pending consideration'. In other words Bristol City Council has not obtained planning permission for its own temporary structure, despite it being in place for over 28 days now.

So will the council, as the "quasi-judicial" planning authority be taking enforcement action against itself "in the same way as any other person"?

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Should the Council swap Hengrove Park for Ashton Gate?

The story so far…..

Bristol City FC would like a new stadium and would like to build it at Ashton Vale. The City Council, by and large, would like them to have that new stadium, especially as this may offer the opportunity for Bristol to be a host city for the World Cup if England is selected as the host for the 2018 tournament (which, we are told, will bring untold wealth to the city). However, Bristol City FC have said that the only way that they can fund their new stadium is by selling their existing stadium at Ashton Gate for somewhere in the region of £20m.

In the current economic climate it appears that the only way to raise £20m for Ashton Gate is by getting planning permission for a new supermarket on the site. Therein lies the rub, because existing planning policy and independent surveys all point to there being no need for a new supermarket in South West Bristol or even any major expansion of existing convenience retail in that part of the city.

A previous proposal for a Tesco at Ashton Gate was withdrawn when it became clear that planners were going to recommend refusal – hence the new plan to relocate Sainsburys. However any relocation involving a significantly expanded store would come up against similar planning objections as the previous application, whilst a store of the same size could potentially fail the sequential test (because its existing site already meets the need) and would not appear to make commercial good sense for Sainsburys (why spend £20m on a site plus another £20m building a new store just to end up with what you’ve already had before?)

The Core Strategy of the Bristol Development Framework published last week, does however highlight a potential need for additional retail in South Central/ South East Bristol. A site for a new centre, to be underpinned by retail, has been vaguely identified for somewhere near the focus of South Bristol’s regeneration at Hengrove Park.

Policy BCS1 of the Core Strategy includes; “…A new centre, either on a new site or at an enhanced existing centre, may be appropriate in South Bristol, acting as a new focus for the area and helping to improve provision of shops, services, employment and community facilities”.

The exact details and location for this new centre will be guided by the results of a South Bristol Retail and Centres Study which is in the process of being completed. However, the second worst kept secret in South Bristol is that Computershare will not be moving from their Bedminster Down offices to a new 19,000m2 office and warehouse development at Hengrove Park. This, perhaps, opens up an opportunity for a new centre on the site at Hengrove Park intended for Computershare – a new centre which could include some form of convenience retail as part of a more sustainable retail-led development incorporating District Heat and Power and linked to the other public buildings proposed for the area (the community hospital, the Healthplex, and the Skillscentre).

With Morrisons at Hartcliffe, Asda in Whitchurch, and Tesco at Brislington and Imperial Park, this leaves Sainsbury’s as the only one of the Big Four retailers unrepresented in the eastern half of South Bristol and thus they could well be interested in an opportunity to move into the area. However the land involved is owned by Bristol City Council not Bristol City FC, and Sainsburys are in discussions about new retail opportunities with Bristol City FC not Bristol City Council.

Let’s revisit the original problem.

Bristol City FC own land at Ashton Gate which they want to sell to a retailer to build a supermarket, but Ashton Gate is located where a supermarket is not needed. Bristol City Council doesn’t want retail at Ashton Gate but do want retail (which will almost certainly include a supermarket) at Hengrove Park. They also want Bristol City FC to have their stadium because they feel it will benefit the city as a whole. But for Bristol City FC to get their stadium they need to sell land to a retailer and the only land they have is at Ashton Gate and we are back where we started.

I have already mentioned the second worst kept secret in South Bristol, now it is time to introduce the first. Bristol City FC and their development partners are (allegedly) in negotiations with the South West Regional Development Agency to swap the piece of land at Ashton Vale now known as “Southlands” for land owned by the SWRDA, almost certainly on the site originally identified for an Arena near Temple Meads. If the “land swap” is successful the SWRDA will seek to build an Arena at “Southlands”, whilst BCFC and their partners will be able to acquire residential planning permission for their newly acquired land at Temple Meads and sell it on to a developer to raise funds towards the new stadium (replacing the funds that they had originally anticipated coming from housing permission for “Southlands”).

What I am suggesting is that Bristol City Council and Bristol City FC pick up the phone and discuss whether a similar land swap involving potential retail land at Hengrove Park being exchanged for potential residential land at Ashton Gate is viable and offers the best consideration for Bristol City Council taxpayers and a better solution for Bristol City Football Club then squaring the circle of building a superstore where it isn't needed.

There may well be perfectly obvious showstopping reasons why my suggestion is completely absurd, but if there is even a chance that it could form a basis for a solution to the problem…….

Just one phone call…….is it too much to ask?