Bristol council voted for Tesco in Stokes Croft – shame

Wednesday 8 December 2010: Bristol councillors voted 4-3 to give Tesco planning permission in Stokes Croft.

A decision with long-term consequences was made by seven individuals, some of whom seemed ill-informed, others partisan, with the seconder of the pro-Tesco proposal absolutely silent during the meeting.

It was clear some counsellors did not understand the issues. None were as informed as our campaigners.

For instance: We explained to the planning committee a precedent existed at Mill Road, Cambridge where the planning inspector dismissed Tesco’s appeal, ruling the store would “pose unacceptable risks to highway safety”.

We were arguing Tesco’s typical just-in-time deliveries – supermarkets keep their stock in centralised depots not in the shop back room – would cause serious traffic problems.

The committee did not even know how many deliveries a Tesco Metro could expect.

We knew.  We had asked Tesco.  And according to Tesco, the answer is: about six deliveries a day lasting about 40 minutes.

Imagine the congestion. Cheltenham Road is a busy road with a cycle and bus lane, and a bus stop.

We were a ‘human-lorry’ the week before in front of the Tesco boarded-up bunker at its proposed site and stopped the traffic for one minute. A friend driving at the time was stuck for ages.

Photo of human-lorry by Mark Simmons Photography

So, back to the planning meeting on Wednesday.

The campaigners gave cogent legal planning arguments.

Cllr Derek Pickup admitted he had been substituted at the last minute and did not understand the noise issue.

Cllr Chris Windows said he was worried about the noise.

Both later voted AGAINST the proposal – Thanks to People’s Republic of Stokes Croft for voting information so far.

Cllr Chris Davis commented that Tesco uses the largest trucks than any other supermarket. (Need to check his voting record and will update asap) [Yes, he voted FOR].

I reported on Twitter at the time: Cllr Alex Woodman: “genuinely torn” “considering abstention” over traffic impact of Tesco in Stokes Croft.

Cllr Alex Woodman confessed that at the back of his mind was the concern that a Tesco appeal would cost the Bristol taxpayer (a real fear that shows how Tesco bullies the democratic process).

His understandable worry was reported by Ian Onions of the Bristol Evening Post who also claimed Cllr Alex Woodman’s comment was greeted by “howls of derision” from the campaigners. Ian Onions’ reporting of the campaigners was over-dramatic. I heard no howls.

This is what I heard: several campaigners reminding Cllr Alex Woodman that a) planning meeting must stick only to material evidence – not legal ones b) In the No Tesco on Mill Road, Cambridge, Tesco’s appeal was dismissed .

Cllr Tim Kent asked if the Council had found out how many daily deliveries Tesco could expect. He seemed the only councillor apart from Cllr Alex Woodman who seemed engaged in the process.

So I surprised and shocked when suddenly Cllr Tim Kent proposed accepting Tesco’s application.

A hand shot up to second it.

It belonged to Cllr Jos Clarke who had caught my attention during the meeting by the faces she pulled when campaigners spoke, and her crossed arms and truculent body-language.

Why did Cllr Jos Clarke second the Tesco proposal with such alacrity? I don’t know. She did not say anything in the meeting. She was SILENT.

And the two other councillors who also voted FOR Tesco? Cllr. Mark Bradshaw and Cllr Chris Davis? I will verify asap – I can’t wait for the webcam to check my notes.

[After watching webcam of the meeting, it is still a mystery to me why Cllrs Chris Davis, Mark Bradshaw, and Jos Clarke voted FOR Tesco, especially as the latter was SILENT throughout. The chair commented on the unusually silent committee a couple of times.]

After the meeting, Cllr Alex Woodman urged me to check the webcam. He said I would then be able to see how he was about to propose that the councillors REJECT Tesco.

But he was pipped at the post by Cllr Tim Kent’s proposal to ACCEPT Tesco.

I said to Cllr Alex Woodman that I was surprised by Cllr Tim Kent’s sudden proposal to accept Tesco.

Cllr Alex Woodman said he was surprised too.

I said: So why didn’t you say your bit about rejecting Tesco?

Cllr Alex Woodman said he had to be careful as chair of the committee not to overrule proceedings.

But you overruled us, I said.

(Cllr Alex Woodman would not let us talk/ask questions except in our allotted time at the beginning, and threatened us with eviction if we spoke out of turn).

Well, Cllr Alex Woodman explained it was different because we were not elected. Listen, this is not personal. He seemed a nice chap. But it is a rotten, shoddy and inadequate planning system.

Note: I cannot check these names at present because I cannot YET find details of the planning meeting on the website. Or the promised webcam.

Stop press: Cllr Alex Woodman just replied to my Twitter enquiry saying the webcam of proceedings is being archived and is now available.

So, on Wednesday, the big people won. The little people fighting for their local community lost.

But I am not defeated. The fight was worth it.

And it’s not over yet.

22 responses to “Bristol council voted for Tesco in Stokes Croft – shame

  1. Hi Elisabeth. A couple of comments on your write-up:

    1) The webcast shows exactly what I thought it would – at 02:54:28, I started to say “I’m going to move…[that we refuse permission]”. But Tim then waved at me, and moved the opposite – that permission be granted. I suppose in practical terms, there’s little difference – if I had moved that it be refused, there’s every possibility that my motion would have been defeated 4-3.

    2) As chair, my job is to keep order at the meeting and help the committee to effectively discharge business. Having repeated interruptions doesn’t help with that, which is why the Council’s rules are quite clear that after the public forum session has finished, members of the public may not speak. There is quite a clear difference between me stopping individuals from shouting and heckling, and allowing a democratically elected councillor from speaking during a meeting of a committee of which he/she is a member.

    3) You say that it’s a ‘rotten, shoddy and inadequate planning system’. I agree. At the last meeting where these applications were discussed, I asked the committee to pass a motion expressing its views on the problems of the A1 use class – i.e. that national chain retailers are classed in exactly the same way as small, independent stores – when it is quite clear that the impacts for both are different.

    It’s also difficult for councillors to reconcile the their roles as democratically elected representatives, with the need to be impartial, apolitical and unbiased when making planning decisions. Planning is a quasi-judicial committee, and the decisions which the councillors make are strictly controlled by planning policy and law – members of the committee are not (and cannot be) whipped to vote in a particular way, and party political considerations play no part in it. It’s a similar situation to being a member of a jury – you might well go into a court room with a particular set of views and beliefs, but ultimately you have to come to an objective conclusion based on the evidence which is presented. The same applies to planning, and if it’s clear that you are making a decision contrary to the evidence, it’s very likely that the decision will be challenged. Thankfully, the government is doing something about this in the form of the Localism Bill. This will give much more freedom to councils to act for local communities, rather than being constrained by policy and law.

    4) You talk about the Mill Road application, so I just wanted to be clear that there has been some confusion over this. Firstly, there is no such thing as ‘precedent’ in planning – every application has to be decided on its individual merits based on the individual circumstances. Just because a decision is made in one particular case doesn’t mean the same decision has to be made in all similar cases. The application which was brought to the committee’s attention also wasn’t a Planning Inspectorate appeal (which is ‘of interest’ even if not a precedent) but was a decision by another council against which there had been no appeal. The professional advice to the committee from the officers was that, had there been an appeal against the Mill Road, it would probably have been lost.

    In the end, I decided that servicing was an issue which should be considered further, and so decided to vote for refusal on the basis that the Planning Inspectorate would have resolved the issue of whether servicing was material or not during the appeal. Sadly, the committee felt otherwise, though I should say it’s not the first time I’ve been on the losing side of the argument at a planning committee meeting!

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    • Hi Alex

      Many thanks for your reply.

      I do think it is a terrible shame the committee did not ask for impact assessments on the extra traffic and noise – I think this would have been a reasonable response to the uncertainties and would not have led (as far as I know) to the financial risk of Tesco appealing.

      Thanks for your informed comments on planning. This is not my area of expertise so I appreciate.

      I am glad you agree the planning process is ‘rotten, shoddy and inadequate’. That gives some hope!

      What was the result of you asking the committee to pass a motion expressing its views on the problems of the A1 use class (” – i.e. that national chain retailers are classed in exactly the same way as small, independent stores – when it is quite clear that the impacts for both are different”) ?

      Elisabeth

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      • Hi Elisabeth,

        The committee passed it unanimously. It’s quite rare for a planning committee to take a view on a policy matter in this way, so I think it says something that they backed this motion so enthusiastically.

        Alex.

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  2. Just to add: I spoke at the meeting too, and I explained about the supermarkets’ just-in-time deliveries system. Supermarkets use every available inch of floor space to sell goods. Goods are not stored in a back room but held in refrigerated lorries and centralised depots – hence the six deliveries a day, according to Tesco.

    I begun by quoting the Tesco developer at the No Tesco in Frome meeting who said publicly: “I hate Tesco. I do.” And when I asked why, he answered: ““They are immoral as developers.”

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  3. This is a disgrace Elisabeth and I can fully understand your anger. I find it totally unacceptable that a commitee of only 7 people can make such a far reaching judgement, especially as it appears that 1 was a last minute substitute with reservations and another voiced noise issues but both still voted in favour of Tesco.
    It was good of Cllr Woodman to respond but I almost choked when I read his statement – ‘ It’s a similar situation to being a member of a jury – you might well go into a court room with a particular set of views and beliefs, but ultimately you have to come to an objective conclusion based on the evidence which is presented’. If Jurys acted in the manner that the Planning Committee did then there would be uproar throughout the land.
    Is an appeal out of the question?

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  5. Shame, indeed. Elisabeth, you and like minded folk, should run for Council.

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  6. Shame indeed! Shoddy and careless indeed – and, ultimately, very sad. Additionally – campaigning journalism at its best! Well done Elisabeth and all who carry the flame of hope

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  7. Philippa and I must have been writing ‘shame indeed’ at the exact same time…

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  8. Despite the distance

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  9. Having watched the webcam of the planning meeting, I have ended up with a burning question for Cllr Alex Woodman:

    What made you change your mind?

    You said you were torn and considering abstention.

    You later added that whatever is proposed, you would abstain.

    Then you said: “I don’t feel there is sufficient weight to justify refusal” – hence your worry of Tesco appealing.

    So WHY did you move from abstention to refusal?

    What made you change your mind?

    Like

    • I asked Cllr Alex Woodman via Twitter why he changed from abstention to refusal of Tesco.

      His answer on Twitter:

      @ewinkler Because of uncertainty over whether servicing is material and noise figures – refusal followed by appeal would have settled it.

      Like

  10. Elizabeth,
    I thought I should respond. During the meeting I was concerned about the deliveries and was trying to assess what weight I should give to the impact of the additional delivery caused by the extra area – the deliveries caused by the main shop area being far less relevant to the application.
    I found during the meeting little support for my concerns with other councillors – apart from Alex. Also quizzing the officers I came to the conclusion that the additional delivery was marginal in impact – I accept that Tesco’s may generate more deliveries than the average shop but this was far less relevant than the additional delivery for this application.
    I felt the noise issue not proven, although I accept still within the realms of debate.
    I had no concerns with regard to an appeal – I never do as this is a false road to go down. I just tried to assess the application as I would assess any – and put aside any feelings I may or may not have to Tesco’s corporate purchasing policies. Based on this I did not see that, on balance, the application could be rejected.
    Basically Alex and I both moved at the same time to end the debate – as it was not progressing anywhere – in fact long silences were beginning to develop. It just happens as I concluded to uphold the application he concluded to reject.
    I respected that Chris Window’s felt the noise issue was enough to reject on, I did not, but there was an argument that could be made there. To be honest I was fairly shocked by what Derek Pickup said, but I could see no gain in challenging him on it. Alex was genuinely torn as was I, it just occurred that we both came to a conclusion at the same time but in different ways.
    I have taken a bit of stick over this – fair enough. So over the last 48 hours I have reflected. My feeling is that the conclusion I came to was the correct one. I did consider calling for a transport impact study, this was something I thought about for quite a while. But I decided that those voting against were mainly concerned about noise, not deliveries.
    But what would have happened if I had voted the other way. Well the application for the plant and refrigerator would have been turned down and Tesco’s would have been delayed for certain. Maybe they would have proceeded with internal refrigeration. Maybe they would have appealed. It is possible, but very unlikely seeing what they had already gone through that they would have abandoned the site. This is an important consideration – Tesco’s could basically still have opened without getting the planning permission on Wednesday. It would have annoyed and delayed them but not stopped them for they had gained A1 consent previously.
    I felt some protestors did themselves and their cause no good with their comments and threats. This in no way changed my mind but did devalue their statements and their arguments. I don’t include you in that of course. I hope on reflection and in future protests they will reconsider some of their methods. Perhaps the most ironic being the shout out of Tory scum, when of course the only Tory present had actually voted to reject the application.
    All the best
    Tim

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    • Hi Cllr Tim Kent

      I really appreciate your considered reply.

      I have a few points to make in response:

      1) “I did consider calling for a transport impact study, this was something I thought about for quite a while. (But I decided that those voting against were mainly concerned about noise, not deliveries.)”

      I think voting for a transport impact study was the least councillors could have done, and was a terrible lost opportunity.

      2) “But I decided that those voting against were mainly concerned about noise, not deliveries.”

      How did you know who was voting against? I did not know until those hands went up. Do councillors discuss beforehand how they are going to vote?

      3) You seemed confident that Tesco would stick to deliveries during non-peak times. However, according to one local re. Tesco Express on North Street, Bristol, “this condition has been ignored, and they deliver several times a day, including rush hours, and park out the front, instantly making North Street a one-lane road.”

      4) You were focused on the impact of traffic generated by the “increase of floor space”. Surely “an increase of floor space” is an extension? And that an extension needs planning permission?

      5) I am not condoning the term “Tory scum” but I think the reason it was said was because the Lib Dem councillors seemed to be behaving like Tories.

      6) After the meeting, you said to our lead campaigner, Claire Milne: “You should have marshalled your arguments better.” I found this a very dispiriting remark because, as you know, Claire and others have fine brains and have also drawn on expert advice. She and others have given hundreds of hours for nothing over the last year to consider the case from a planning point-of-view. It was not fair to blame us as there was no lack of good arguments from our side.

      Very best, Elisabeth

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  11. You were brilliant at the meeting! The chairman was a bit dictatorial…didn’t seem to be fair, tho’ evidently fairness and majority opinion seem to mean nothing to him and his fellow gangstas! Don’t give up the fight…..boycott Tesco…boycott the Council. This reminds me of Wal-Mart….I take personal satisfaction in NEVER shopping at Wally world, no matter how cheap…and make no mistake, their stuff is CHEAP…..the prices are. It’s my own personal attack are “big box” stores and the inferior quality of the products they sell. Keep on keeping on sister!!

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    • Jody – I deeply resent the suggestion that I wasn’t fair and that I was ‘dictatorial’. Public forum statements are supposed to be three minutes each, usually for a maximum of 30 or 45 minutes. I allowed well over three minutes for most people (and I can provide a list of how long each speaker was actually given if necessary!), as well as allowing over 1hr 30 mins for public forum to give everybody an opportunity to speak. I also agreed to bend the rules to allow Claire Milne to speak after the officers’ presentation, something which wouldn’t normally be permitted.

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      • Hi Cllr Alex Woodman

        The woman you asked to have ejected did not have a microphone so she had to raise her voice to be heard across the massive council chamber.

        In response, you said: “Stop shouting at me, I’m the chair of the meeting.” And because you had a microphone and because you raised your voice, it sounds as if you are the one who is shouting (not her).

        Just thought I would put that in context.

        Elisabeth

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  12. One of the core campaigners, Marmite, has written to her councillor, Cllr Jon Rogers, about Bristol City Council’s decision to grant Tesco full planning permission.

    She has given me permission to post a copy of it here:

    From Marmite:
    Dear Jon,

    I hope you’re well.

    It was a shame not to see you or Shirley at the Development Control Committee on Wednesday. I understand you’re a GP but what is the point in us electing councillors if they don’t attend important meetings and represent our community? One of you should have been there. I thank you for writing a statement but it should have been read out at the meeting.

    The meeting was the most appalling display of cowardice and uselessness on the part of councillors and officers and we, the community, were utterly failed. One councillor was texting throughout the meeting and Alex Woodman suggested that councillors could read questions (which they should have read before the meeting) at the same time as listen to a statement from a member of the public, which indicates clearly how much we are actually listened to!

    The No Tesco in Stokes Croft campaign was mounted, managed and maintained effectively by busy people, for free, for over a year. In that time, we brought together people with genuine knowledge about planning, development, sustainability, community, food sourcing, heritage etc etc And we read, interpreted and applied laws and guidelines that exist. We encouraged hundreds of people to engage with the democratic process and led them to believe that if we exercised our rights, we could make the difference and shape the way our city develops. In fact, this is untrue. The decision was made before we entered the chamber and I, for one, have lost all faith in this sham democracy.

    We gave the councillors the information they needed to legally refuse Tesco permission for external works and lit store signs. The noise report alone should have been enough to turn it down. How can Guy Bentham Hill be paid to guard our Conservation Areas if he thinks it’s OK to put a massive loud chiller unit in the middle of Bristol’s only remaining Georgian high street? How can the highways man (I couldn’t hear him so I don’t know his name) suggest that six lorries a day parked over a bus/cycle lane will not cause problems? How on earth Nigel Butler got his job, I will never understand! He acknowledged he had no idea how big the chiller unit will be (surely this is part of a planner’s job?) and therefore it was difficult for councillors to determine whether the chiller constitutes an extension – which has no planning permission. Plus, he can’t spell ammended which concerns me.

    The most serious breach of planning law happened when Alex Woodman said in his summary, and I quote, “in the back of my mind is the cost of an appeal if we refuse Tesco and council tax payers would have to pay for this”. Councillors are not allowed to consider the cost of an appeal. They must judge the facts before them. This was blatant bullying on the part of Tesco and criminal weakness on the part of our council. Given the evidence we collated and presented at several meetings, the councillors could easily have refused Tesco and we could have met again in the new year, with the help of the Localism Bill.

    I am extremely angry with Bristol City Council and I feel utterly betrayed by the Liberal Democrats. In future, I will spoil my ballot at every election and encourage others to do the same. The system no longer works for me or any ‘ordinary’ hard working person. Britain sponsored by Tesco is a terrifying thought but it is happening with every stadium, hospital, road, school they pay for. We need stronger leaders.

    I am not in the habit of breaking the law very much but I am also of the opinion that you can’t be bullied and should stick to your principles. Non-violent direct action and civil disobedience is now our only choice. It will waste police time, waste lots of generally decent people’s time and waste tax payer’s money. But what are we to do if we try to engage with the system and just get trampled on and fobbed off? This is our city/country/planet too.

    All the best,
    Marmite

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  13. Just a comment about:

    The most serious breach of planning law happened when Alex Woodman said in his summary, and I quote, “in the back of my mind is the cost of an appeal if we refuse Tesco and council tax payers would have to pay for this”.

    I am fully aware, and I tried to be quite clear (when not being interrupted!) that the likely cost of an appeal is not a material consideration for a planning application – in fact, I asked questions of another councillor about this very subject at a recent meeting of full council.

    However, if I were to believe that we would lose an appeal (which I was pondering that we might) then clearly refusing it would be the wrong decision for the committee to make. That is a perfectly legitimate thing for a member of planning committee to take into account.

    I am perfectly happy to stand on my record of voting to refuse applications in spite of a potentially expensive appeal where I believe that a refusal is the correct decision.

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  14. At least 21 new supermarkets from the ‘big four’ chains were given the go-ahead in and around Bristol in the past two years, according to BBC research.

    And to think Bristol City Council could have said NO to at least one…

    Like

  15. Pingback: The Bristol Riots (Links roundup) and Twitter – Onlyben.com - Onlyben.com

  16. Pingback: No Tesco in Stokes Croft fundraising party – Chance to win a Banksy! | Real Food Lover

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