News from Suffolk where the Royal Town Planning Institute has rejected a complaint against consultants Nathaniel Lichfield Partners made by locals opposing plans for a new Tesco supermarket.
As reported previously, Nathaniel Lichfield has once more been under the spotlight for its curious habit of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds, or to put it another way, helping the large supermarkets with planning applications while advising local planning authorities on...erm...supermarket planning applications.
The results of this cosy collaboration can be seen all over Britain, with council planners being advised by NLP that even small market towns can comfortably accommodate a couple of supermarkets. It will sometimes concede that the arrival of a Tesco, Sainsbury's, etc. will hit local businesses, but argue that they were over-trading anyway.
NLP is a prominent member of the Royal Town Planning Institute which regulates the activities of its members. Needless to say, the Institute rejected a complaint that NLP had a conflict of interest, but suggested that the firm might in future want to stop talking about working for Tesco's and "consider further demarcations" between its public and private sector work.
Or in slighlty plainer language, it's OK to work for Tesco's and the others as well as local authorities. Just don't tell the public you are doing it.
Oh, and it would be awfully kind of you to think about creating a Chinese wall to ensure that the same staff don't work on both sides of the fence. We know that you have been telling all and sundry that you have some such wall in place, but we're not really convinced that you do. Could you do something about it before we get any more tiresome complaints in from busybody members of the public?
In a nutshell, then, the RTPI is not going to do anything about this scandalous state of affairs, and NLP will carry on with the business of making money.
Outside the cosy world of council planning departments, developers and extremely highly paid consultants where everyone knows everyone, public confidence in the planning system is at rock bottom and has been for a long time.
Westminster, or in the case of Wales the Senedd, could make a start by insisting that local authorities use properly regulated and truly independent consultants who do not depend on the supermarkets or large developers for a significant chunk of their business.
what exactly is 'over-trading'? Does it mean that too many people are shopping locally and depriving the poor supermarkets of their money?
Over trading is a very subjective term. Basically what happens is that companies like NLP will estimate a shop's turnover (often wrongly) and then calculate sales per square foot. They then say that shops of this kind should normally expect to be trading at a rate of x per square foot, and so on that basis, the shop is over-trading and can afford to lose business to a Tesco, Sainsbury's, etc.
The fact that sales per square foot at Tesco's are far higher than most independent retailers does not matter. That is normal and acceptable in the consultants' view.
This has been going on for a long time, and it stinks.
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