Save Newport Campaign response to Cllr McClements – Shropshire Star 7/4/14

In responding to the Court of Appeal decision to reject on all counts Telford & Wrekin Council’s appeal to have the Inspector’ s decision on the Morrison’s superstore overturned, Councillor McClements makes a number of statements (Shropshire Star 7/4/14) which attempt to justify both the Council’s position regarding the question of new foodstores outside Newport and the consequent actions and associated costs in pursuing the Council’s preferred option for a Sainsbury’s on their own greenfield site at Station Rd.  By way of response we would make the following observations on two substantive points

 

1.         In rejecting the Council’s appeal, the Court of Appeal has not set a ‘national precedent’, it has merely passed judgement on the Council’s Section 106 agreement which sought to apportion the estimated £2m+ costs of its proposed highway improvement works to the A518 across five proposed developments, three housing and two superstores, the later including its preferred Sainsbury’s development, should they all be developed.  It is disingenuous for Cllr McClements to suggest that the Council will be now left with a bill of over £2m to fund these road improvements given that costs were to be borne by the site developers, around £1m from Sainsbury’s developers alone, and should both foodstores not proceed, as the Inspector concluded and Court of Appeal confirmed, there would be no need for the proposed highway improvements, or at least only a much reduced/cheaper scheme.

 

2.         The actual legal costs, as opposed to the total costs which include planning and retail consultant’s fees, incurred by the Council in pursuing appeals regarding proposed foodstores at Mere Park, Audley Avenue and Station Rd remain something of a mystery despite having been the subject of a number of freedom of information requests.  The figure of £1.5m previously supplied by the Council itself, relates to total costs incurred in relation to promoting/fighting the 3 foodstore proposals as at December 2012, prior to the abortive Station Rd public inquiry and the High Court and Court of Appeal challenges instigated by the Council .  Again it is somewhat disingenuous that Cllr McClements seeks to make reference to the apparent £96k incurred by the Council in fighting a ‘doomed bid’ by local residents to get the proposed Sainsbury’s site designated as a Village Green, when it was the Council who chose to employ a top QC to fight their case (which as the Court of Appeal suggested was somewhat unnecessary and excessive) and sought to ‘appropriate the land for a planning purpose’ should they have lost!  This does not suggest that it was ‘doomed’ (i.e. a lost cause), whereas the Council’s pursuance of the Audley Avenue Inspector’s decision through both the High Court and now Court of Appeal might, in light of Lord Justice Sullivan’s judgement, be more deserving of the epithet ‘doomed’!!  Whilst the Council argue that they took expert, and very expensive, legal advice in pursuing this matter, clearly a judgement needed to made within the Council at senior officer and Cabinet level, as to whether the risks involved in incurring these additional legal costs were acceptable, affordable and proportionate in light of the Council’s precarious financial position.

 

Cllr McClements concludes by seeking to defend the stance of the Council in pursuing its own preferred Station Rd site, ‘as an asset that is owned by the people of Telford & Wrekin’, and bemoaning the loss of annual revenue income should the sale of the site to Sainsbury’s not now proceed.  Whilst we would concur with the need for the Council to maximise and realise its assets for the benefit of the Borough as a whole, this should not be at all cost, particularly at the expense of local taxpayers, and nor should it be at the cost of undermining the precarious viability of Newport town centre with a disproportionate superstore on a greenfield site which, as the Inspector identified and the Court of Appeal confirmed, is regarded as a much valued area of open space by the people of Newport and adjoining parishes.

 

We trust the Council will not now decide to waste further tax-payers money by appealing to the Supreme Court, given that it clearly has no remaining case, nor seek to use its recently commissioned retail study to try to justify the need for two superstores on the edge of Newport.

 

Councillor Adrian Meredith, Patrick Beech, David Parker

Save Newport Campaign

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