SUPERMARKET giant Asda’s bid to come to Redditch is in limbo after councillors delayed a decision amid questions about the legality of a u-turn by planners.
The application to create the 24 hour store out of the existing B&Q warehouse on Jinnah Road was thrown into confusion after planners changed their recommendation two days before Wednesday’s planning committee meeting from approval to refusal.
Officers had originally stated while the application breached local and national planning laws designed to protect town centres, there was not a viable site and so it should be allowed.
But evidence was then submitted suggesting the option for a superstore on the site of Car Park 4 had been incorrectly ruled out and allowing the proposal would cause significant long-term damage to the town centre.
After reviewing the evidence again, planners recommended the application be rejected because assessments submitted to justify choosing the Smallwood site did not outweigh the potential harm to the town centre and Lodge Park district centre.
But Asda countered with further information arguing they had already proven the Kingfisher proposal was not viable, backed by the council’s external consultants GVA, and questioned the legality of the u-turn by planners.
Philip Bartram, Asda’s senior property communications manager, told the committee: “We pass the planning tests, we’re creating 400 jobs and securing another 119 at B&Q and it’s something we can do now. It’s not jam tomorrow, it’s jam in 2015,” he said.
“The [car park 4] site is not viable, we will not go to that site, it does not work for us.”
Jane Sell, from B&Q, warned their current store was too large and if the Asda proposal was rejected it
But Mark Bourgeois, executive director for Capital & Regional which co-owns the Kingfisher Shopping Centre, warned allowing the Asda application would scupper any chance of having a supermarket within the town centre.
“The consequent loss of investment from the town centre will outweigh the short-term gains from the applicant.”
The Town Centre Partnership also opposed the bid while concerns were voiced by residents about issues including parking and anti-social behaviour.
But Coun Joe Baker said he was not convinced by arguments the town centre would be harmed as parking charges, business rates and high rents were also factors.
Coun Yvonne Smith suggested the issue was deferred – a move backed by the majority of the committee -to allow time for the information to be properly considered, some of which councillors had only been give 20 minutes to read through at the start of the meeting.
Coun Mike Braley also called for an investigation into why planners had changed their recommendation.
But committee chairman Coun Andy Fry said: “This is a finely balanced decision and that’s why the recommendation has changed because information has come forward.
“There is no strong evidence one way or the other.”