SOURCE GETS SOME ANSWERS
In putting together our Broken Brighton manifesto, we hit a constant brick wall trying to get a position from the council. So when we heard Lynda Hyde, Tory councillor and chair of the planning committee was due on Paul Stones’ ‘In Brighton’ show (Radio Reverb 97.2fm, Mondays 5pm), we stuck our foot in the door and put some questions to her ourselves. The burning issue for us was whether the council has any policy regarding the protection of local character in our retail make-up. The news isn’t great, frankly.
Lynda Hyde:“It’s very difficult to stop such an influx of large-name stores – it’s down to planning policies. If a property has A1 retail use anyone can come in and use it as such. We’ve done an urban characterisation study – there are 34 conservation areas like the North Laine, Withdean, Rottingdean – they all have their own character. But if a large retailer wants to move into existing premises there’s nothing the council can do about it. It’s different if they’re new premises, then the study comes in. The Council’s not against supermarkets, they’re convenient and big employers. We do promote smaller local stores, they have higher economic impact – their profits are more likely to be spent in the local economy. But when the big Tesco opened in Hove in 2003 it brought additional shoppers to the area; their planning permission was based on their car park being available to serve other local shops. It does have more effect on fruit and veg shops than boutiques, but with the Tesco Local in Rottingdean, the local grocers and butcher both found it had no real impact on their trade either way. But planning permission can’t be refused on basis of competition; it’s all down to government and planning law.”
“With Starbucks, it was a change of use, yes. The policy at the time was that St James’s Street should be 50% retail, Starbucks made it just under that level by becoming a café on a previous shop space. Their planning application was refused on that basis, but they appealed and the committee overturned the ruling because it was only just under 50%. Legally the applicant’s identity can’t be a consideration.”
But if a local café business wanted to open in designated retail space, they wouldn’t have the means to launch the appeals Starbucks went through.
“I agree – we didn’t like what Starbucks did, I can assure you. Our enforcement officers did everything they could. With the appeal process, the planning officers hear all the evidence from local opposition, residents’ petitions etc, but the retailer also gives evidence for why they want to open. It’s out of our hands; it’s the law of the land. Everyone has right to appeal.”
It seems the council are unwilling or at least powerless to do anything?
“Sometimes you are powerless but I can assure you the council aren’t unwilling. Every councillor I meet regardless of their party wants to be there to do the best for the city. We recognise ourselves as public servants but we have to work within the law. We have to have a legal reason to refuse because the applicant will appeal and the council will have costs against it. We can’t make decisions outside planning law.”
So there’s not a lot you can realistically do?
“Big companies have big money, it’s happening all over the country. We can say no but we have to have grounds. Sometimes I’d love to go in and just say no, I don’t like it. Competition is not a planning consideration, sadly. Supermarkets are big employers, but yes, they close down local shops and open their own. I don’t like it either, personally. Supermarkets are taking over the world. But… the new coalition government are very keen on localism so residents should have a greater say. I’m all for that but for now we’re waiting for more guidance on it.”
So it appears there’s not a lot we can do for now. If that gourmet burger place (itself part of a chain) under the Komedia were to close, there’s nothing to stop ol’ Ronald McDonald moving in. If The Dorset went under, Wetherspoons could step in, opposite another Sainsbury’s Local should Infinity bite the dust. Food for thought, for Brighton individuality…