Thursday 15 September 2011

Big Business 1 Small Community 0

Just back from a planning meeting in Carmarthen where an application to build yet another supermarket in Newcastle Emlyn was approved by 8 votes to 7. So, a campaign which has now run for three years has come to an end, and there is nothing else objectors can do short of winning the lottery and finding the money to fund a judicial review.

If we had had a couple more votes, the decision would have gone back to be ratified by the planning committee in a few months time. There have been recent instances in Carmarthenshire of applications previously rejected being approved at the second sitting, after arms have been twisted and party whips applied (not allowed, but it happens). After that, the applicant would still have had recourse to an appeal, so when you hear that they want to change the planning system in England to an assumption "in favour of development", you have to wonder why they need to change a system which is already so heavily weighted in favour of developers.

But back to the peculiarities of Carmarthenshire, where we are ruled by a coalition of "Independents" (closet Tories) and Labour. There was a lively debate, and it was abundantly clear from the outset that most people in Newcastle Emlyn, the Town Council and the County Councillor were all against the supermarket. Five or six members of the Planning Committee asked detailed questions and voiced strong concerns. Only one, Labour's Cllr Terry Davies (Gorslas) spoke in favour.

For a while, observers felt the tide was running strongly against the application, and there was repeated thunderous applause from the public gallery every time a councillor spoke against.

But then came the vote. Eight Independents and Labour members, all but one of whom had sat in sullen silence, voted in favour.

One of the points made strongly in the debate leading up to the vote was that a supermarket, which even the planning officers reckon will take half of the town's trade, will lead to a net loss of jobs in a very small community with very, very few employment opportunities. But Labour members duly voted with big business for a scheme which will throw people scraping a living on the minimum wage out of work.

For those readers concerned about Local Development Plans, it was also clear from the evidence heard today that the retail study in Carmarthenshire at least is full of errors and miscalculations. The consultants paid to produce this "evidential base" have got the number of shops wrong (it's about 60, not 80+), the size of the shops wrong and the turnover of these businesses wrong. They don't know how to calculate leakage, and they don't know where people do their shopping.

Can we have our money back, please?


Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to 'joined-up thinking'? The rash of supermarket and superstore applications in Carmarthenshire is astounding, and dreadful news for everyone who values our individual, idiosyncratic small towns and the communities living in them. At Llandeilo, the Sainsbury's superstore proposal for the edge of town is elephantine in relation to the population.

Just one blogger among many, see my, for example.

caebrwyn said...

Agreed. I also suspect that if the committee had been about to refuse the application, the planning officer would have issued dire warnings of indefensible appeals and enormous costs, when in fact the officer's decision to recommend approval was based on a flawed retail survey. A survey, as we all know, by the very company who also represents several international supermarkets.

Photon said...

Same old story.

Funny how thundering applause isn't a disruption of the metting but quiet filming is.

Mind you, who in Carms. will actually go to the lengths of not shopping at Tesco? Like everywhere else, very few.