SUPERMARKET giant Tesco has refuted allegations it tried to intimidate district councillors into approving its latest scheme for a supermarket in Ilminster.
As reported , in recommending the latest application be refused, district councillors claimed a letter sent to them from Tesco's agent was a 'bullying tactic' and 'blackmail'.
The letter - published in full below - says the company would be likely to win planning permission at appeal if district councillors blocked the move.
This week, Tesco corporate affairs manager Felix Gummer said: "We had no intention of trying to intimidate the council, we merely communicated to them the present planning situation and the possible options open to the company, all of which were echoed by the council's own officers at the meeting."
The three-page letter, sent by David Prichard, of consultants Farrell Bass Prichard, on February 19, was in response to a proposal from planning officer Andrew Gunn that a decision on the application be deferred to consider changes to the design.
In the letter Mr Prichard plays down the significance of the changes to the scheme compared with the one that has planning consent, and highlights conservation manager Adron Duckworth's support for the design.
Towards the end of the letter Mr Prichard states: "It would be both unreasonable and irrational for the council to seek to refuse the current application on the basis that some members are seeking to secure additional changes to the design which, based on the advice given by officers, are unnecessary, would clearly adversely impact on the adjoining conservation area and are without merit - especially in view of the fact that my client's fallback position is to implement the currently approved food store.
"In the event that the application is either deferred or refused my client will: (a) proceed with implementation of the current approved food store scheme; and (b) reserve its right to pursue and appeal in respect of what would be unreasonable refusal of an application for a scheme which actually enhances the design of the proposed food store.
"The legal advice which we have received (which is consistent with our view) is that an appeal on the narrow ground of design is likely to succeed and the council would place itself in a potentially vulnerable position if the main reason for refusal is the failure on the part of my client to agree to amend the design of the food store to introduce a pitched roof which, in terms of design, would adversely impact on the character and appearance of the adjoining conservation area.
"I trust that you will draw this letter to the attention of your members in the hope that common sense will prevail, and they will support the clear and considered officer recommendation, which is to approve the application.
"This will enable my client to proceed with a scheme for a food store which will benefit the town centre as a whole."
At public question time former Ilminster Mayor Margaret Excell described the letter as "bullying tactics".
Ilminster district councillor Kim Tur-ner said: "I don't like receiving a letter saying their legal advice says an appeal is likely to succeed. I feel this letter from this agent or from Tesco is a bullying tactic and I disagree with anything like that."
Linda Vijeh agreed, saying: "I don't think blackmail letters should be any reason to vote for it."
Tesco and Farrell Bass Prichard de-clined to comment on the letter.
The full text of the letter is below - let us know what you think by using the Comment form beneath the story.
I WRITE further to the above and our recent telephone conversation in the course of which you advised that the Town Council objected to my client's proposed development on design grounds and that local Members had expressed similar concerns. You requested that my client considers agreeing to a request for a deferral of the application from Committee on February 21 to enable discussions to take place with the Town Council and local Members regarding the design of the store. You advised that the concerns of the Town Council and local Members did not relate to minor points, but were of a more fundamental nature, seeking, for example, the introduction of a pitched roof on the store to replace the flat roof proposed.
As you are aware, the design of the store is essentially the same as that granted full planning permission by your Council in December 2005 (Ref: 04/02970/FUL). That planning permission granted consent for a foodstore of the same size as that now proposed and of identical format, i.e. a large plan, single storey building. As noted in the Committee Report, the extant planning permission can be implemented without the need for any further permission from your Council.
The current application has been submitted on behalf of my client in order to improve the overall efficiency in the layout and operation of the proposed foodstore and to address concerns about the adequacy of the approved servicing arrangements and potential impact on amenity. The changes proposed in the current scheme relate to matters of detail and do not change any fundamental elements of the design previously approved.
The main change is the improvement of the store's service yard to enable it to operate in a more efficient, safer and environmentally less intrusive manner. The improved service yard will ensure that vehicles visiting the site do not have to park in Shudrick Lane, as would be the case with the approved scheme. Similarly, the design of the service yard will provide better screening for local residents in both visual and acoustic terms.
The detailed design of the store has evolved from that previously approved as a result of substantive discussion with your Council's Conservation Manager and Landscape Architect, as well as Planning Officers. In the Committee report, the Conservation Officer identifies how a large building, such as the supermarket proposed, should address design issues. He advises that such a building should express itself in an honest way and be a well composed, orderly design, free from extraneous or frivolous details. He unequivocally concludes that the design as proposed, including the palette of materials, accords with the design criteria he identifies. Furthermore, he specifically advises that: "Moreover the design should be an expression of its age and not seek to disguise the internal form by false roofs and inappropriate vernacular derived features. In the past, some supermarket designs sought to dress up their forms with pitched roofs in a mistaken attempt at disguise. This does not work and resultant building turns out far bulkier and potentially more visually intrusive."
Introducing a pitched roof would be contrary to the agreed design ethos and would clearly adversely impact on the appearance and character of the adjoining Conservation Area.
It should be noted that: 1. The current application proposes a store design (and floorspace) essentially the same as that granted full planning permission by your Council in December 2005; 2. The foodstore permitted in December 2005 can be developed without any further grant of permission by your Council; 3. The minor changes which are sought are acknowledged by Officers as being not only acceptable but to result in improvements to the scheme permitted in December 2005; and 4. The current proposal is acknowledged to be of good design, which minimises the height and scale necessary to the foodstore use, incorporating brickwork and glazing according to functional need and with due regard to local characteristics and context.
As indicated above, my client has spent a considerable amount of time working with Officers to ensure that changes to the approved scheme are acceptable. One of the effects of this has been the inevitable delay in the development programme for the foodstore which, in order to meet the 2007 programme has now become even more critical.
The changes which are currently before the Council will result in increasing the cost of construction of the foodstore. My client does however recognise that the overall changes which are proposed would improve the efficiency and layout of the store and benefit the town.
It would be both unreasonable and irrational for the Council to seek to refuse the current application on the basis that some Members are seeking to secure additional changes to the design which, based upon the advice given by Officers, are unnecessary, would clearly adversely impact on the adjoining Conservation Area, and are without merit - especially in view of the fact that my client's fallback position is to implement the currently approved foodstore.
In the event that the application is either deferred or refused, my client will: (a) proceed with implementation of the current approved foodstore scheme; and (b) reserve its right to pursue and appeal in respect of what would be unreasonable refusal of an application for a scheme which actually enhances the design of the proposed foodstore.
The legal advice which we have received (which is consistent with our view) is that an appeal on the narrow ground of design is likely to succeed and the Council would place itself in a potentially vulnerable position if the main reasons for refusal is the failure on the part of my client to agree to amend the design of the foodstore to introduce a pitched roof which, in terms of design, would adversely impact on the character and appearance of the adjoining Conservation Area.
I trust that you will draw this letter to the attention of your Members in the hope that common sense will prevail and they will support the clear and considered Officer recommendation which is to approve the application. This will enable my client to proceed with a scheme for a foodstore which will benefit the town centre as a whole.
DAVID J. PRITCHARD,
Farrell Bass Pritchard Chartered Surveyors and Chartered Town Planners,