The planning saga that is the Benyon House (Co-op) site next to Asda in Middleton is not over yet as Councillors on the South & West Plans Panel yesterday (18 October 2018) deferred their decision on the latest application for a retail development for the site.
Planning officers recommended rejection of the latest application, but Panel members were not convinced by the reasons put forward and as one Councillor put it “were minded to approve the development.”
The debate centred on the economic viability of the nearby Middleton District Centre and the still to be approved Site Allocations Plan (SAP) for the city. B&M currently have a store in the District Centre and have signed up as one of the anchor tenants for the new retail park.
Officers argued that there had been a material change to the retail environment in the last 12 months with the collapse of chains such as Poundworld and House of Fraser. They had commissioned property analysts CBRE who reported that the unit vacated by B&M would be unlikely to be re-let.
But Councillors pointed to a letter from B&M’s Chief Executive saying they would move out of current unit in the District Centre at the end of the current lease in October 2019 as it was no longer fit for purpose. They argued that approving or refusing the new development would not affect the viability of the District Centre which they described politely as “tired” and in need of urgent refurbishment. This was view was endorsed by a statement from the three Middleton Park ward members: Cllr Judith Blake, Cllr Kim Groves and Cllr Paul Truswell.
The second issue relates to city wide planning policy which is still to be finalised. The Benyon House site is earmarked for housing and employment in the Site Allocations Plan (SAP), but the plan is yet to be adopted. Councillors sought further guidance as to whether they could go against a plan that was still in draft.
James Marshall, for the developers CDP, spoke against refusal of planning permission stressing that local residents and Councillors supported the plans which would generate 180 jobs and £170,000 of infrastructure levy to be spent in the ward.
The Panel voted to defer a decision for further information regarding the SAP, design, layout, and possible inclusion of housing; by 4 votes to nil, with 10 abstentions
The site has been the focus of planning issues for many years. Tesco applied to build a store on the site, but were rejected in favour of the Asda store on the next-door site. The plan for a small retail park, anchored by a Lidl store and the relocated B&M store, was first put forward in October 2016 by Marshall CPD.
This first proposal was rejected by planning officers due to concerns about the removal of trees and noise nuisance to local residents. The developer then worked with officers to adapt the plans to meet these concerns. The current planning application was submitted in February this year.
A final decision will be made by the South & West Plans Panel when the issue comes back to a future meeting.