Dear Mr. Gummer:
Re proposed McDonald's Drive-Thru at Penzance, Cornwall
I am writing to you on a very important matter with potentially serious consequences for the people I represent. I hope you will advise me, and, as Minister with responsibility for Planning Policy, clarify for me your inspector's likely view should the application I will outline proceed to appeal. The proposal concerns a Drive-Thru (sic) McDonald's store on the outskirts of Penzance.
Circular 8/93: A threat to local democracy I have just returned from a site meeting and the recommendation of the sub-committee was for refusal. There was a large group of protesters, and I believe this decision reflected the wishes of local people, as your circular 8/93 says we councillors should; letters received for and against the application have been in a ratio of 3:1 against. However, our planning solicitor, who was present, stated that, again according to circular 8/93, he thought it likely that the council would have to pay costs on appeal - i.e., that your inspector would deem us to be acting unreasonably.
This means that when the full committee of Penwith District Council s Planning and Development Council meets, members may be too scared to accept the site meeting sub-committee s recommendation of refusal, and vote, instead, to approve the proposal.
How do you square your advice that we should try and reflect local opinion when at the same time we have this sword of Damocles hanging over our heads? Our Council has already paid out (circa) 60,000 pounds to a developer who wished to build a supermarket in Carbis Bay, near St Ives. One of the developer's consultants sent in a bill for over 17,000 pounds for three days work; an example of how local authorities are regarded as something of a milch cow.
I recommended to my fellow members that we should refer this to the court taxing master for investigation but unfortunately they voted to pay up without protest. Since then our Planning Committee have been too scared to say boo to a goose.
Was it your intention to cripple local democracy in this way when your Department issued circular 8/93? How much say do you think communities ought to have regarding the environment in which they must live? Do you believe that big business interests should be paramount, and that small businesses, historical town centres, once beautiful countryside, and the health and safety of ordinary people should all be sacrificed to maximise profits? If not, then I urge you to withdraw circular 8/93.
Another mechanism should be found to protect what Americans call the little guy against councils unreasonable decisions, perhaps by expanding the role of the local government ombudsman. As for McDonald s, it is surely obvious that in this case it is us, the Council, that is the little guy. And remember, we are elected to carry out what we feel are the best policies for our people. Unlike Planning Inspectors, we are accountable. As are you.
Is the solicitor's advice correct? (Page 1, para 2) It seems to be based on a permission granted to Safeway in 1988 - won on appeal, I need scarcely add, against the council s wishes but fortunately before circular 8/93, so members weren t scared out of voting the way they felt was best - for an out-of town supermarket and adjacent filling station and Motorists restaurant. Safeways didn't build a restaurant on the site, and therefore permission has lapsed. (See inspector's decision letter, 7th June 1988, headed Department of the Environment and Department of Transport, Common Services, Room 1404, Tollgate House, Houlton Street, Bristol, Tel: 01272 218927 and signed A.V.Moult.)
PPG13: A presumption against against increased traffic movements Since then you have issued PPG 13, which I understand supersedes previous guidance on developments likely to create extra traffic movements.
PPG 6, the latest version of which was, I believe, issued in 1993, advises us to take account of Local Agenda 21, to which your government is a signatory, and which sets targets for local authorities to meet involving action to decrease pollutants including those emitted by traffic. PPG 6's main thrust concerns the vitality and viability of town centres.
I extend an invitation to you to visit Penzance, and see for yourself how many empty shops there are, and how desperately sad this once thriving town has become, and how dispirited its people. All since 1988, when the rot set in, for Safeways has been followed by B & Q, Halfords, Lidls, and now Tescos, the building of which has helped jam up the entrance to the town.
Obviously the recession, which certainly hasn't ended as far as Cornwall is concerned, has contributed to Penzance's problems; more businesses are competing for less spending money. Why should McDonald s gain a competitive edge over its in-town rivals by being able to provide adjacent parking? Penwith's Traffic Consultant recommends refusal on parking grounds Which brings me to another point.
The traffic consultant employed by Penwith DC looked at the existing McDonald s drive-thru at Indian Queens - also in Cornwall - and concluded that there will not be sufficient parking at the proposed development (40 are proposed, 60, he says, needed). Penwith's officers have ignored his advice, accepting instead McDonald's assertion that people stay longer at Indian Queens, because they are breaking a journey to somewhere else, whereas people won't stay so long at Penzance because it is what they term a destination town. Everyone to whom I have mentioned this point agrees with me that it is nonsense: people on journeys do not hang around, whereas those visiting a facility nearer home are likely to stay longer. Surely not an unreasonable ground for refusal?
My Chief Officer says that if we refuse we should do it solely on inadequate parking, presumably because he thinks if we lost on that point there is less likelihood that we would have to pay costs. I do not understand why we cannot use PPG 6 and PPG 13, and nobody seems able to explain it - surely the Safeways permission has lapsed, and PPG 13 represents a substantial shift in policy? McDonald's Consultants advocate dangerous pedestrian routes
Also, A J Kenyon, for the McDonald's Traffic Consultants, the Peter Evans Partnership, has submitted that the proposed Penzance site cannot be compared to that at Indian Queens as it is adjacent to Safeway which is within easy walking distance , i.e. implying that people can use the Safeway car park which would mean a walk across a dangerous roundabout. He also mentions B & Q and Halfords in the same context, which would mean people crossing at least two main roads at a major roundabout. He describes these as uses/facilities for the proposed McDonald's site. Please comment. Planning Gain?
Would you also comment on the following, the result of consultations with the County Surveyor, who recommends Conditional Approval: From the evidence available to me, I can see no substantial reason to object to the proposal. Whilst the development would inevitably attract additional vehicular activity, it must be borne in mind that a previous permission for a restaurant was granted on appeal on this site without the improvement to access included as part of the proposal.
The information supplied in the traffic statement is considered to be acceptable and the conclusion satisfactory, indeed they have discounted the possibility of combined trips (i.e. vehicles visiting both the Petrol Filling Station and the restaurant) and the overall effect should therefore be less than the statement predicts. The opening of the Tesco Store and Petrol filling station is also likely to have an impact on existing traffic levels at this site which will off-set, to a certain degree, any increase generated by the restaurant development. Access to the recently approved Managed Business Centre should not be affected. The access road alterations proposed as part of the restaurant application should in fact improve that aspect of the Managed Business centre development. No objection is therefore raised to the proposal, subject to the following conditions:-
This echoes the County Surveyor s response when the new Tesco, currently under construction, applied to have their filling station separately sited from their supermarket. He raised no objection, since Tesco had just paid for a number of improvements to a major roundabout, even though the assessment of traffic use of the supermarket can be only a guess, and the separate filling station will generate a great deal more traffic off the roundabout than otherwise would have been the case. These works were wholly funded by Tesco, and I have no doubt that McDonald s will fund the necessary works to their roundabout, which is further out of town.
I understood that the idea of planning gain, which is obviously what the County Surveyor is after, (although it s not my idea of gain ) had been ruled on and found to be illegal. Would you clarify this point for me? If this kind of manoeuvring is a consequence, then I hope it is. How can we rely on the County Surveyor s advice if it is tainted by considerations of this nature?
Other points made by objectors include:
Loss of jobs in the cafes in the town centre would, I believe, come under PPG 6.
Let me conclude by saying that I represented my council at the Chartered Institute of Housing conference at Harrogate, where I heard you say that you were opposed to out of town developments, especially where there are alternatives in the town centre. I understood this to refer to retail as well as housing developments. I welcomed those remarks, but it seems as if they were just empty words.
I remind you of the forthcoming General Election, and of the fact that the Conservative majority in 1992 in the St Ives Constituency was a mere 1600 or so.
I look forward to a full response to the points I have raised. The final decision will be made at Penwith's next Planning Committee on March 5th, so I hope very much to hear from you by then. I am copying this letter to your Bristol Office.
Cllr Ruth Lewarne
Please note that enquiries may be addressed to:
Mr. Lyn Rowland
Penwith District Council
(01736 331166, ext.4176)
Please contact me for further information if required.