As many of you will know, Lidl’s appeal against the London Borough of Bromley’s refusal of planning permission will begin on Tuesday 30 September at 10:00. In the lead up to the appeal, I have again formally raised my objections to the proposal through a proof of evidence, the text of which can be found below.
The appeal will take place in the Council Chamber at the Civic Centre, and could go on for up to four days. Anyone is welcome to view the proceedings from the gallery, and I would encourage residents to look in if they get the chance.
Town and Country Planning Act 1990
Appeal by Company Lidl UK GmbH – Ref: 13/04160/FULL1
Site at The Porcupine PH, 24 Mottingham Road, London, SE9 4QW
Proof of evidence of Bob Neill
Member of Parliament for Bromley and Chislehurst
1. As Member of Parliament for Bromley and Chislehurst I have raised my concerns, and indeed that of the overwhelming majority of Mottingham residents, on this inappropriate and deeply flawed application for a deep discount supermarket from the start. I have been an MP since June 2006, and feel it is worth stressing that this is the first time I have ever submitted a proof of evidence since my election, such is the strength of feeling regarding this case.
2. Between May 2010 and September 2012, I served as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, with Ministerial responsibility for, amongst other things, planning and community pubs. I am, therefore, well acquainted with all relevant planning law, as well as the grounds on which this appeal has been submitted against the London Borough of Bromley’s refusal of planning permission on 5 March 2014.
3. Whilst I note that some common ground has been found between the appellant and the Council, I remain unconvinced that the perceived benefits of the proposed development would outweigh the loss of what is, for many residents, a long-established and much loved social hub and community asset.
4. The following submission sets out the substantive flaws in the appellant’s case.
5. Planning law requires that applications for planning permission must be determined in accordance with the development plan1, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. A policy presumption in favour of sustainable development can be rebutted where proposals are not in line with local plan policies, or where material evidence demonstrates it would cause harm to public interest.
6. UDP Policy S6 demands that retail developments be appropriate to the size of the centre. Pre-application advice given to the applicant specifically requested evidence to demonstrate compliance with this policy. It is disappointing that no evidence was submitted as part of the formal application; many constituents expressed concern about the greater scale of this building and the impact a large discount store would have on nearby independent retailers.
7. The DAS failed to present an adequate description of the surroundings and context in which this development would be sited. In particular, there was no reference to the War Memorial or the relationship the store would have to the adjacent (locally listed) former Library. I consider that the proposed scale and massing are out of keeping with the character of Mottingham Village and unduly conspicuous within the street scene of Mottingham Road. Little regard was given to the impact this development would have on neighbouring residential properties.
8. The standing Public House has been designated an Asset of Community Value, and this in itself should be a material consideration to which the Inspector should have regard. The loss of a valued community asset is also contrary to UDP Policy C1, the NPPF (Para 70, 126, 152), and London Plan policy 3.16. It is disappointing that the applicant ignored officers’ advice to provide evidence to the Committee of compliance with local plan policies.
9. The DAS confirmed that Lidl’s business model centres on cost minimisation. This is reflected in the low number of potential employees (only 7 permanent positions) at the proposed unit. As such, the scheme’s potential to “provide employment opportunities” was grossly overstated. Indeed, the potential loss of livelihood to local retail units was likely to exceed the numbers Lidl intended to employ.
10. There is no question that the proposed development would have resulted in a material increase in the volume and character of traffic entering and leaving the site.
11. As suggested in the pre-application advice, and again at the Committee debate, I believe the proposed 35 parking spaces to be insufficient. The supporting evidence provided by the applicant, as well as subsequent study data, did not provide adequate justification as to why this application can depart from recommended parking provision standards (UDP Policy T3).
12. On the assumption that 7 employees would be on site at any one time, and given the relative deficiency of public transport in this area, a further 4 parking spaces (minimum) are likely to be taken up by staff. In effect, there would be periods in the day when only 24 general-use spaces will be free.
13. The applicant acknowledged that peak demand on a Saturday would likely exceed proposed parking supply, with an estimated 7 cars waiting for a space at any one time. I question the assumption that these cars could be accommodated on site, with sufficient space to manoeuvre. The end result will be spill-out onto the main highway or customers finding nearby on-street parking which is, as you are aware, significantly restricted. This is an unacceptable risk that will impact local residents and businesses.
14. It is disappointing that the applicant did not submit a full appraisal of car park manoeuvrability, including vehicular turning circles. Amongst other things, this would have given a clear indication of whether sufficient allowance had been made for front and rear overhang of commercial HGVs and larger family cars.
15. Para 3.17 of the original SCP Transport Assessment should have been discounted in its entirety. It is not appropriate to defend the provision of parking below maximum standards on the speculative and unquantified assumption that users will use alternative modes of transport.
16. I find it strange that the Transport Assessment referenced recent appeal decisions against LB Bromley on the grounds of parking provision disputes. These related to different uses, for example a church car park, and cannot be applied to this case.
17. Due to the proposed decision to close the northern access point (Road Safety Audit Response Form), as vehicles attempt to enter and exit the site using a single access point, there remains a strong possibility of tailbacks on the approaches to and from the roundabout.
18. It is concerning that the main Transport Assessment was undertaken outside of the main school term period. This would have had a significant impact on the accuracy of the results and the weight that can be afforded to these data.
19. With this is mind, I believe the appellant’s assertion in para 5.8 of its Statement of Case can be discounted; no reliable and wholly representative assessment has been made to suggest unequivocally there is no interaction between Mottingham Road and West Park roundabout junction with regards to queuing.
20. Para 2.16 of the Transport Assessment was particularly alarming; it was nonsensical to predict possible future incident rates by simply referencing the historic safety record around this site. Such reasoning is purely speculative and takes no account of the significant traffic flow alterations that will stem from this development.
21. Para 2.24 of the Transport Assessment also carried little weight. Most people, for safety and convenience reasons, will choose not to cycle to this store and undertake a return journey burdened with shopping. It was also unclear how cyclists would be expected to access one of the 8 lock-up points and embark/disembark safely.
22. Paragraph 3.9 of the Transport Assessment was very concerning. Mottingham Road can get heavily congested and this would make it incredibly difficult for an articulated HGV to enter and exit the site. The applicant’s supporting evidence even acknowledged that HGVs would have to “use the full width of the carriageway to perform some of the movements”.
23. Beyond the precedents set by MfS2, unnecessary danger should be avoided for new sites such as this. I therefore find the appellant’s suggestion that “it may be better to accept larger vehicles occasionally cross into the opposing lane” (para 5.5 – Statement of Case) irresponsibly dismissive owing to the busy nature of Mottingham Road.
24. Whilst I welcome that the appellant has now specified further its intentions to propose a planning condition to limit servicing hours of the store, I find the designated delivery slots highly inappropriate. Although these will avoid peak trading hours, they both fall within peak traffic times. The Inspector should be aware of significant local concern about the morning servicing hours given that there are two schools very near to the site.
25. The DAS stated that parking bays 1 & 2 may need to be coned off to permit daytime deliveries (Para 3). However, this conflicted with para 3.10 of the Transport Assessment, which stated that ‘the largest articulated delivery lorry will also require the vehicle to encroach onto 3 of the customer car parking spaces’. Such a basic factual error was deeply alarming.
26. For customers parked in the rear of the site (parking spaces 1-12), they must walk c.70 metres to reach the store entrance, navigating through two directional traffic flows, plus reversing cars from spaces 17-27. This is a significant safety risk for pedestrians. There is also no indication of trolley storage provision for customers using the parking spaces to the rear of the site. There is a very real possibility, therefore, that trolleys will be ‘dumped’ and left scattered around the site. This would present even further obstacles to an already over-crowded car park.
Design and Appearance
27. Bromley Council’s General Design Principles state that proposed developments must respect the character and quality of the surrounding area.
28. The proposed roof design is welcomed and, not withstanding concerns about the scale and positioning of this building, it would create visual interest and relate well with the character of the area. The use of ‘Alucobond’ grey fascias and PPC aluminium gutters and downpiping (Part 4) is, however, disappointing. This is standard build material for Lidl stores, and demonstrates limited concern for creating a sensitive development in keeping with the area’s architectural style. Blue-coated aluminium frames and entrance screens are standard Lidl marketing colours, but look unattractive and do not fit with the wider street-scape of Mottingham Village and existing retail frontages.
29. It is not acceptable for Lidl to propose the use of large and unsightly posters to break up the mass of the eastern elevation. I remain of the view that cheap advertising space is no substitute for high-quality architectural design and brickwork with interest.
30. The proposed active frontage would be welcome, but additional natural light in-store would be marginal due to a Northern-facing façade.
31. It is disappointing that so little space had been set aside on the site for landscaping, and I am surprised that the applicant ignored officers’ advice to retain the two TPO trees on-site. This was a tacit admission that the applicant sought to squeeze as much floorspace as possible into the site, and had little willingness to compromise on landscaping in an effort to maintain the maximum size of store possible.
32. Indeed, the appellant’s continued insistence that the two trees are not of TPO status is surprising as this was listed as one of the five reasons for refusal on 5 March.
Impact on Neighbouring Residential Amenity
33. The pre-application advice raised clear concerns regarding “the close proximity of vehicle movements to the rear gardens of properties in Devonshire Road”, and recommended that an acoustic assessment of background and expected noise levels be submitted as part of the application. No such report was submitted with the application, so it was hard to make an objective assessment of the possible disturbance to residents.
34. Whilst I welcome the appellant’s increased consideration for security concerns, and have made note of plans to incorporate a two-leaf gate and retractable bollards, as well as installing CCTV cameras and security lighting, I find it worrying that security appears to have been an after-thought for the appellant throughout the entire design process.
35. I remain unconvinced that these security measure will provide a sufficient level of deterrence and delay against forced entry/intrusion. Not only will security lighting provide potential nuisance to local residents, it is also wholly inadequate to expect these same residents to essentially police the site themselves, as suggested in para 5.20 of the Statement of Case: “providing opportunities for casual surveillance from the adjacent residential properties backing on to the site”.
Loss of a community facility
36. Whilst Policy C1 of the UDP fails to make specific reference to commercial enterprises, it does “seek to promote the provision of developments that would meet the current and future health, education, faith, social or other needs” of the community. The strong negative reaction this application has generated in the local community demonstrates clearly that the Porcupine site falls into the social facet of this policy.
37. Indeed, for many years the site has been used to stage an annual remembrance service owing to its close proximity to the war memorial on West Park roundabout, and from 2002 onwards the Porcupine served free refreshments on its forecourt for attendees. This is a well-attended and highly thought of event in the community, and with Lidl operating on Sundays, there is considerable concern amongst residents that this local commemoration could not continue if the proposed development were to go ahead.
38. I believe it is worth noting that there has been a public house on the Porcupine site continuously since 1688. In light of this, and with reference to para 5.33 of the Statement of Case, I would suggest that a new pub stands as a truer “fallback” for this site.
39. Moreover, Policy C1 of the UDP states: “While facilities can become run down or poorly maintained, this does not necessarily demonstrate a lack of need.” Enterprise Inns’ business model of asset sell-offs is well documented and has received notoriety in the pub trade press.2 I therefore believe it is misleading to judge the viability of running a pub on this site on this basis, as the appellant does in para 5.35 of the Statement of Case.
40. Local councillors and the Mottingham Residents’ Association date this shift in the maintenance of the pub to 2010. Before this date, the Porcupine functioned as a profitable and well-managed public house, and was not only used by the average pub-goer, but also as a much loved social hub by local traders and school parents as part of the daily school-run. Just as a few examples, the Porcupine was a major sponsor of the biennial Mottingham Festival (hosting Morris dancers, craft stalls etc.), was the meeting place of the Safer Neighborhood Team, and held regular and very popular quiz nights.
41. It is also worth noting that, at the present time, there are very few, if any, easily accessible meeting places in the vicinity. I would highlight that The Prince of Wales is a sports bar, and that the Royal Tavern offers adult entertainment on some evenings. The appellant even concedes in para 5.37 of its Statement of Case that these two alternative public houses are not located within the designated retail frontage of Mottingham Local Centre. Other alternative spaces, such as the use of local church halls, is restricted to special events for which fees are payable.
42. Indeed, without a public house on this site, central Mottingham would effectively be without a night time economy, other than a very limited number of take-away restaurants. After 15:00 every day, the nearby workman’s café and deli both close, and there is nowhere in the area to buy simple refreshments.
43. It is widely believed amongst residents that the pub was deliberately run down by subsequent tenants to justify its purchase by Lidl UK.
44. It is not acceptable for the applicant to host a public exhibition and simply ignore the concerns expressed by the overwhelming majority of attendees. It is inconsistent to acknowledge the “predominantly negative” feedback from this event and simultaneously proclaim a “groundswell of local support” (Statement of Community Involvement; 2013; 4.2). This is tokenistic consultation and makes a mockery of pre-application engagement. Over 350 residents turned out for this one meeting which is a significant figure for a proposal of this scale.
45. Indeed, after Lidl’s community consultation in the Methodist Church Hall, the Mottingham Residents’ Association (MRA) conducted an exit poll. 256 residents were against the proposal, 22 were in favour, and 11 were recorded as undecided. As I understand it, after consulting 11,000 homes by letter in summer 2013, Lidl only received 187 positive responses to their online petition, only half of whom can be confirmed as Mottingham residents.3
46. From the very start, Lidl have treated the local community with disdain. Their strategy has, in many instances, been nothing short of underhand. The sudden closure of the Porcupine, coupled with Lidl’s swift notification of its intention to demolish the site, is evidence of this. Only a number of highly popular petitions, as well as interventions by myself with senior figures at Lidl, prevented such action being taken.
47. It is little surprise this scheme evoked such a hostile response from residents and this, in part, prompted my Parliamentary Debate of 21st May 2013 (see Appendix I). I trust the Inspector will give careful thought to my comments on the record.
48. In conclusion, there remain substantial grounds upon which this application should be refused.
49. The applicant’s Statement of Case displays a continued lack of consideration for local residents, and although the appellant has had multiple opportunities to do so, it continues to make very little effort to address genuine local concern.
50. The benefits of a deep discount supermarket on this site are negligible. Not only will the proposed Lidl store put substantial and irreparable pressure on a number of local businesses, but very few employment opportunities will be generated in turn.
51. The overwhelming majority of Mottingham residents are firmly against this application, and the popular support campaigns such as ‘Save the Porky’ have enjoyed is a strong indicator of this.
52. As you know, LB Bromley is not required to determine applications solely on the basis of information provided by the applicant. In this particular case, beyond the fact that the site is simply too small for the proposed scheme, the forfeiture of a real asset of community value is at risk. Many Mottingham residents have a deep and historic affinity with the Porcupine, and I fear that lengthy ramifications could be felt throughout the community if this proposal were to prove successful.
53. The Porcupine stands as a much-loved, and much-needed, social hub for local residents, and its presence will be sorely missed if this scheme were to go ahead.