Campaigning to curb supermarket power

What issues will the Council consider when deciding on a supermarket application?

The Council planning officers and planning committee will consider the application to see if it complies with local planning documents that relate to that specific site, to the town or neighbourhood in which it is located.

Documents relating to town centre land  uses will be relevant (even if the proposal is not in a town centre), as will any relating to other issues that the application brings up, such as traffic and impact on local residents. 

Many planning committee members have limited knowledge of planning policy and are led by the planning officer's recommendation.  This has to be published five working days before the planning meeting and is the first real indication you will get of how the Council view the application.  We suggest that you contact each member of the committee via the committee secretary to explain your reasons for objecting.  Use short sentences and always quote the supporting policy.

Your main objection letter should be addressed to the Case Officer, quoting the planning application number and should be comprehensive and quote the policies again which support your reasons for objecting.  The broad content of your letter has to be included in the planning officer's report.

Your last chance to influence the members of the committee is to ask to speak against the application at the committee meeting. This is usually up to a five minute slot. Not all authorities permit public speaking, so it is important to understand what you are able to do. If you wish to speak, you must notify the Council of your intention in advance.

The application will have to be considered in relation to relevant national planning guidance which includes the following:

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

This was brought into force in March 2012 and represents a radical shift in the detail contained in national planning policy. Previously, national policy was provided by a series of planning policy statements (PPSs), covering a range of matters such as housing, transport, heritage, flooding and retail. The new policy is contained in a single document, which is just 60 pages long. As such, it is far less detailed and prescriptive in terms of the policy it provides, although it still covers broadly the same range of issues.

At the heart of the NPPF is a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’, which should be seen as a golden thread running through all decisions. This means:

- approving development proposals that accord with the development plan without delay; and
- where the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out of date, granting permission unless:
- any adverse effects of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in the NPPF taken as a whole; or
- specific policies in the NPPF indicate development should be restricted.

Town centres
The NPPF seeks to ensure the vitality of town centres at the heart of their communities, a fundamental aim that has not changed. One of the criteria is to “provide customer choice and a diverse retail offer and which reflect the individuality of town centres”. Also there is a requirement to retain existing markets.

The sequential test is also retained, so edge-of-centre sites are only appropriate if suitable and viable town centre sites are not available.  If there are also no edge-of-centre sites, only then can out-of-town locations be considered. Sites should be accessible to the town centre.

The NPPF also states that “applicants…should demonstrate flexibility on issues such as format and scale.” In other words, if there is a site in a town centre and it is of sufficient size to address needs, then it is not possible for a large supermarket to ignore it because they want to build a much bigger store.

If an application is made which is not in accordance with an up-to-date local plan and is more than 2,500sqm (or whatever threshold is set by the Council), then an impact assessment is required. This should assess the impact of the proposals on the vitality and viability of the town centre. This includes impact on local consumer choice and trade in the town centre and wider area, up to five years from the time the application is made. If it is likely to have a significant adverse impact, then the application should be refused.

Sustainable transport

Plans and decisions should ensure developments that generate significant movement are located where the need to travel will be minimised and the use of sustainable transport modes can be maximised.

Meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change

New developments should comply with adopted Local Plan policies on local requirements for decentralised energy supply unless it can be demonstrated by the applicant, given the type of development and its design, that this is not feasible or viable.

Local planning authorities should ensure flood risk is not increased elsewhere and only consider development appropriate in areas at risk of flooding where it can be shown that development is appropriately flood resilient and resistant.

The Environment Agency is a statutory consultee on any application so always review its opinion. If it places an objection that cannot be satisfactorily dealt with, then the application must be refused.

Historic environment

This covers applications and their impact on the historic environment (e.g. listed buildings, conservation areas, archaeology). If the application in question will have an impact on the historic environment, you can use the NPPF to argue against it. The more significant the heritage asset, the greater the protection it is afforded.

Other material considerations

The planning system requires applications be determined in accordance with the ‘development plan’ (i.e. national policy in the NPPF and the local plan) unless material considerations dictate otherwise. So what represents a material consideration?

Common examples include:

• Case law where a precedent has been set which could reasonably be applied in this case.

• The planning history of the site. The Council should hold a record of all previous applications on the site and it may be that a similar application was refused previously and the reasons could be applicable today.

• Traffic, parking and accessibility. Some of these issues may not be fully dealt with, so there could be an opportunity to make a case around these issues.

  • Viability. You can object if you believe that the development is not likely to go ahead because the developer cannot afford to build it. This is rare in the case of a supermarket but all developers have a profit margin below which it does not make economic sense to build.

• Planning contributions. If the development should be making contributions towards facilities that reduce its impact but does not want to, then this could be because they are too expensive. Insisting that these contributions are sought could render the development unviable so it should be refused.