Geoffrey Cox, Member of Parliament for Torridge and West Devon has called for a public inquiry into the retail giant Tesco’s application to build a 30,00 square ft superstore on Great Torrington.
Mr Cox has written to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Ruth Kelly, urging her to ‘call in’ the application. If Ms Kelly agrees, the decision to grant or withhold planning permission will be taken away from Torridge District Council, which owns the proposed site, and subjected to the scrutiny of a full public inquiry.
In his letter to the Secretary of State, Mr Cox described Great Torrington as “a vibrant small market town that possesses an unusually high number of independent retailers who are the heart of its commercial life. The town centre is also a conservation area and its combination of architectural and historic interest, while at the same time being a prosperous commercial hub, lends it a unique and unspoiled character and a powerful sense of community.”
Speaking today, Geoffrey Cox said:
“The scale of the proposed superstore is massive-more than eleven times larger than any existing retail space in Great Torrington. Its presence will inevitably draw trade away from existing independent retailers, many of whom, such as the town’s two butchers, sell local produce.”
“It is a very emotive issue for many people living and working in the town and it is vital that the potential impact, both on the town centre and the community of Great Torrington, should be examined in the depth and with the transparency, detachment and impartiality only afforded by a public inquiry.”
Mr Cox’s decision to intervene comes hard on the heels of his campaign to a secure a Competition Commission investigation into supermarket practices. Earlier this year, Geoffrey challenged the Prime Minister, in the House of Commons, to live up to his rhetoric and help release farming communities from the “armlock” of supermarket dominance. Shortly afterwards the Office of Fair Trading recommended an inquiry, which is currently taking place.
Mr Cox has also been campaigning to encourage people to buy local produce, to help local producers, and independent retails, and to minimise so called “food miles” (the environmental impact of transporting food over large distances). He will open the Tavistock Food Festival on the 29th July.
Letter to Ruth Kelly from Geoffrey Cox follows:
The Rt Hon Ruth Kelly MP
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
London, SW1E 5DU
Wednesday, 5 July 2006
Dear Secretary of State,
Re an application, Torridge District Council No. 0816/2006, for an Out of Town Supermarket (Tesco Superstore) at School Lane Great Torrington
I am writing to request that you should give a direction to the local planning authority, Torridge District Council, requiring the above application to be referred to you pursuant to section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. I understand that the authority may, in any event, be obliged to notify you of the application because it owns the land which is the proposed site of the development and the application is likely to depart from the local development plan.
Great Torrington is a vibrant small market town that possesses an unusually high number of independent retailers who are the heart of its commercial life. The town centre is also a conservation area and its combination of architectural and historic interest, while at the same time being a prosperous commercial hub, lends it a unique and unspoiled character and a powerful sense of community.
The town possesses, within the conservation area, a popular and self-sustaining theatre and arts centre (the Plough), and an active and successful Community Development Trust, which has already been responsible for the creation of one the leading tourist attractions in Northern Devon based on Great Torrington’s civil war history (Torrington 1646). Its vision is to continue to promote Great Torrington using its cultural and historic heritage and character. It is a significant ingredient of its success so far that a visitor from 1646 would probably still recognise the commercial centre and that the town as it is today, with its remarkable continuity, is “living history”.
The application proposes an edge of centre supermarket of 30,000 square feet (2788 sq m) of retail space for food, convenience and comparison goods with parking for 332 cars. It predicts a loss to the independent retailers of around £1.5 million per annum. However, it asserts that there is no reason to believe that the arrival of a superstore on the edge of the town would materially harm the vitality and viability of the town centre. I am afraid that has not been the experience of other small market towns in my constituency, even where the retail space has been far less than that proposed here.
The scale of the proposed superstore is more than eleven times larger than any existing retail space in Great Torrington. Its trade will necessarily and substantially overlap with that offered by existing independent retailers, many of whom, such as the town’s two butchers, sell only local produce.
It is vital that the potential impact on the town centre and community of Great Torrington should be examined in the depth and with the transparency afforded by a public inquiry. The proposal for a Tesco superstore in Great Torrington, which is at the heart of a depressed dairy and livestock farming area, has aroused very considerable public anxiety and concern. Those feelings are exacerbated both by the fact that the proposed site of the development was given to the town and is currently used for public recreation and by the fact that the site is owned by the Torridge District Council, which is, in the absence of your intervention, to take the decision.
It is very clear that it is an important objective of national policy to protect the viability and vitality of market towns and town centres. No more compelling an example of a potential conflict with this objective could be furnished than by this application and, I would suggest, the circumstances powerfully support the need for the decision to be taken with the transparent detachment and impartiality that will only be available in a public inquiry.
I strongly urge you to exercise your statutory powers in this case.
Geoffrey Cox, Q.C., M.P
6th July 2006