FIDDLERS ON THE ROOF
Opinion by Stephen Kingston, Salford Star Editor
"It's the treatment of the roof" says Councillor Derek Antrobus, Salford Council's planning `lead member' "I'm not satisfied that the design of the roof is adequate…"
You what? There's this huge battle raging between Salford Shopping City and the new Tesco `monster' store, about links with the Precinct and job losses on the Precinct. And the first question the head of planning asks is whether the thing can have a prettier roof?
Later on in the planning panel meeting the official Tory opposition leader, Karen Garrido, gets her turn…
"Yes I was going to ask about the roof too" she says…
What the hell is going on here? You've got market traders at Salford Precint worried sick about their livelihoods, and kids working in shops staring the dole in the face – and our `representatives' seem more concerned about Tesco's roof. It's unbelievable.
These are the same planning panel councillors who, a few years ago, when faced with an application for a huge glass towerblock - with no affordable housing or reason for being - were asking about colour schemes, absolutely in awe of the well dressed architects. That glass towerblock is now a derelict dump after the company went bust.
The planning application submitted at this panel was for a huge Tesco store, stood on its own across four lanes of traffic on Pendleton Way, with no links to the Precinct apart from a couple of glorified zebra crossings.
The fear is that people will just stick their cars in Tesco car park, do their shopping in Tesco and not venture over the road to sample the delights of Salford Shopping City, which will slowly wither and its trade get even worse. It's hardly a recipe for the regeneration of Pendleton, only for increased Tesco profits. Yet none of this seemed to register in the planning meeting at all.
The smug Salford Council planning officer went through the Tesco application, flicking up on a screen bits of policy that justified the superstore's existence but strangely not the bit of the Pendleton Planning Guidance that states "Any proposals…must integrate well with the existing centre and provide good pedestrian links within the centre and to the surrounding area."
It's this that's the main bone of contention – yet all through the meeting it was kind of brushed aside by the Council officers. Councillor John Cullen did actually talk about integration, saying it would be "folly if Tesco increased jobs in the area by 600 but 400 were lost at the Precinct"…and asked "What room do we have to promote economic integration into the agreement?"
"None" said an officer "It's not in our gift – that's for elsewhere."
You what? It's there. Section 9 in the Pendleton Planning Guidance that states "Any proposals…must integrate well with the existing centre" that he didn't bother showing to the panel. Economic and physical integration are the same in this case.
It was obvious to anyone that there is no `integration' between Tesco and the Salford Shopping City – there's four lanes of traffic in between, and two car parks. A couple of pedestrian crossings aren't going to help. There is some talk by Council Leader John Merry of starting a Forum to discuss the closure of Pendleton Way. But this superstore has been planned for eight years. Why are they only now discussing the closure of Pendleton Way?
Indeed, the longer the meeting went on the more it seemed obvious that the intention was to tinker with the application a bit, rather than turn it down flat or defer the half cocked plans until someone came up with something that was workable.
They're going to put in `super crossings' and taxi ranks, and then rip them all out when the closure happens? This is madness. Even Councillor Antrobus mentioned the dilemma about "taking down the steel barriers [along Pendleton way] and putting in the super crossings at the same time as discussing the closure of Pendleton Way." He asked if there could be some flexibility in the planning agreement.
"No" said the officer "We wouldn't be able to put conditions in to close Pendleton Way."
Antrobus asked about an increased Section 106 contribution from Tesco to help pay for any future work on the road. The Section 106 contribution from Tesco for infrastructure and stuff currently stands at a paltry £250,000…
"No" said the planning officer "We're comfortable with the figures"
Like, who's asking them? These planning officers are supposed to work for the Council – that's us. The people who pay their wages. Are we comfortable with the figures, which is mere pocket money to Tesco? The councillors present just accepted it.
Meanwhile Councillor Garrido also wittered something about integration and the scathing Cabe report (see here)… "I'm concerned that we put in a condition that the [Tesco] car park is used by everyone…I do think that it [Tesco] will be competing with the shopping centre although I think it will bring in extra people…although that's not a planning consideration is it?" she asked. And then shut up.
Yes it is! Section 9 in the Pendleton Planning Guidance states "Any proposals…must integrate well with the existing centre"… not destroy it!
Councillor Ray Mashiter, almost apologetically, talked about the impact on local residents of construction work during the building phase and deliveries when it's complete. The planning officer rolled his eyes and stared at Mashiter with incredulation…
Later in the meeting when councillors had come up with a 9am-9pm construction/delivery working day as a condition for planning approval, the officer actually looked over to the Tesco people in the public gallery. Looking for what? To make sure it was ok with them?
You have to ask who's running this show – Salford's planning officers or our so-called elected representatives? Or Tesco itself?
At the very beginning of the councillors' discussion Joe Kean had asked for a site visit so councillors could see for themselves the `integration' or lack of it. His request was totally ignored, until right at the end of the meeting, he asked again.
"We don't have a seconder" snapped planning chairman Alan Clague…. "Er, I second it" said Councillor Alice Smyth…
A vote was taken – and only those two voted for it. Defeated. Next came the vote on the actual planning application. Ten in favour. One abstention (from Councillor Smyth). That's well over 90% of concillors on this panel who are in favour.
So do over 90% of people in Salford approve a giant Tesco superstore that's not integrated into Salford Shopping City and might lead, according to Salford Estates, to 40% job losses at the Precinct? If so, our councillors are representing us. If not - and 8000 Precinct shoppers who signed a petition suggests otherwise - they're well out of touch. But at least Tesco will have a pretty roof. So that's ok.
See the official Salford Star report on the planning meeting here…
See previous articles on Tesco v Salford Precinct starting here…