The past few days have brought some bitter disappointments in the Council’s committee rooms.
On Thursday I attended the Planning Committee to support residents objecting to Primark’s application which would give them the right to virtually unlimited deliveries between 8am and 8pm. The current level of disturbance is too much for them, any growth would be wholly unacceptable. I have documented more on the problems previously.
I have been working on this application for nearly 2 years — it was submitted in March 2008 as, incredibly, the seventh application by Primark for this building. Over this period it was made very clear to me by council officers that some of Primark’s bad behaviour (e.g. vehicles coming in via Marlborough St) was un-enforceable until this new application went to the committee. This was because the existing conditions were unclear following a number of applications and a partial success (for Primark) at an appeal.
So I had been chasing and chasing the application, getting residents to write in to the planning officers and so on, in the hope we could soon get enforcement action. Sadly this all fell apart at the committee meeting. Firstly the officer presenting the application to the committee was not well briefed, for example claiming Primark deliver through Western Road when in fact they don’t. Officers appeared to be surprised to hear that Primark were servicing via Marlborough Street when they shouldn’t have been (enforcement officers have been told this for years); they were also surprised to be told that Primark’s yard had never been used for deliveries by previous tenants Littlewood and C&A. And so on…
Fortunately the photos I circulated to all members raised questions about how well the current setup was working for traffic flows. Additionally the pictures of clearly unusable cycle parking drew comments of enforcement action being needed from another officer. But after nearly TWO YEARS of being told this by residents and councillors why were officers showing surprise on the day? I can tell you, the galleries gasped and tutted.
To add to the dismay officers also told us that the report (can I mention again, nearly two years in gestation) had incorrect conditions and so amended them verbally to allow Sunday and Public holiday deliveries – admittedly via Western Road only – but still not something the published conditions would have allowed at all. Furthermore officers emphasised that this application was only about Primark’s failure to discharge conditions about (inaccessible) cycle parking, putting up security gates without prior agreement and sustainability issues.
Chris Naylor-Smith spoke very well on behalf of the residents. A spokeswoman from Primark’s agents offered a canned speech which didn’t reflect reality, then as Committee member Cllr Amy Kennedy has commented, was unable to answer any questions whatsoever. I then spoke but was probably showed how furious I was about the way the application was unfolding, completely contrary to how residents and I had been told it would by officers.
To their credit, committee members generally showed concern about the failings of the current delivery arrangements, the problems it caused Crown St and Marlborough St residents and Primark’s clear failure to act responsibly to its neighbours… let alone engage with them.
Green Cllr Amy Kennedy offered some excellent conditions, requiring all deliveries via Western Road and rubberising the yard and cages to reduce noise. Labour Cllr Juliet McCaffery offered to second the rubberising conditions. However officers made it very clear that these were not acceptable as they did not relate to the matters of cycle parking, security gates and sustainability conditions. This advice put an end to the kinds of conditions residents had been hoping for.
Sadly, other than the Green committee members who chose to vote down the application and one Tory abstention the remainder of the Committee (Conservatives and Labour) all followed officer advice and voted through the application. It’s not entirely clear to me if a condition requiring the cycle parking to be accessible and a formal notification to Primark requesting that they engage with their neighbours will be included in the formal decision notice. We shall see.
It was an extremely disappointing event, not just because I couldn’t get the result residents were hoping for, but because the terms of the whole application shifted so dramatically from what we had been previously led to believe. This isn’t over though, I’ll be following this up with the Council and Primark as will residents, I’m sure.
Webcast of the Committee meeting (From memory, Primark came about 2.5 hours into the meeting)
UPDATED: Having reviewed the webcast I realised I had wrongly attributed the abstention to Labour, in fact it was Cllr Mrs Theobald, Conservative.