I’ve not long returned from a Ceredigion County Council planning meeting. In it, the application for a new Sainsbury’s supermarket in Cardigan was discussed in some length.
I’m not a member of the Planning Committee so I have no vote on such matters but as a local member, I was allowed to attend and give my thoughts on the applications.
The Bath-House Saga
This application goes back some time in history as it is based on the controversial Bath-House site of town which has been earmarked for a mixed-use development of retail, healthcare and housing.
It has been a contentious and controversial potential area of development since before I was elected onto the County Council back in 2004 and ever since.
In 2007, despite my plea that more time be given to iron out a number of technicalities, approval was given for development on the land including our desperately needed new hospital and a new supermarket which would sit alongside – with two main entrance points to the development. However, at the time, a strip of land owned by a private local individual on the Gwbert Road side of the development was required to be sold to the developers for it to go through as agreed. It soon became apparent that an impasse had been reached with said private individual and the application as agreed couldn’t go through. A second application therefore came in front of the planning committee in 2008 but this time with only one entrance to the site – from Cardigan High St. This was widely unpopular due to the traffic congestion that it would accrue in the town centre. I spoke out against it and it was defeated.
It seemed then that short of a CPO, the Bath-House development was dead in the water. But then suddenly, the previously stated private land owner offered after all to sell his strip of land to the developers which meant the original 2007 outline application could proceed as then agreed.
Sainsbury Vs Tesco
There was much talk in the meantime about which supermarket would buy into the scheme. It was widely expected that Tesco would get their chequebook out to ensure that no rival would move onto their territory after they themselves moved to the top of town location where they currently reside back some 20 years ago.
Concern grew about the lack of a petrol station in Cardigan town apart from T.M.Daniel on Priory St, so Sainsbury's put in a revised planning application that included a petrol station with their supermarket. Tesco responded by putting in its own additional planning application for a new petrol station on the New Mill Road opposite its store. This in recent weeks has sparked understandable concern from local residents from Heol Y Wern who are worried about how this petrol station would impact on their private space.
Today's Planning Committee
So we approached today's meeting with a sense that it was going to be a straight fight between the Sainsbury and Tesco applications. This was further re-empasised when the agenda came out last week and the officers recommendations were to defer the Sainsbury's application but giving the officers powers to approve whilst refusing the Tesco application because the former is an edge of town centre development whilst the latter is an out of town equivalent. The thinking being that the Tesco development will significantly undermine High St trading. The Town Council also opposed the Tesco extension whilst giving caveats to its support for a new Sainsbury's store.
So with all of this mounting pressure against them, we were informed at 4.30pm last night, barely 18 hours before the planning meeting, that Tesco were withdrawing their application and are to submit a substantially reduced alternative in due course.
Or as Dean Rusk the US Secretary of State said of the Soviet Union in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, which I quoted in today's Planning Meeting:
"We've been eye-ball to eye-ball and the other fellow blinked".
It almost feels like a reasonable comparison because the build-up to today's meeting felt like a confrontation between these two retail giants. In the end, with everything against them, having responded to every move made by Sainsbury's, Tesco stepped back from the brink to re-calculate its position.
Round 1 to Sainsbury's
In the meeting itself, I raised my concerns regarding the proposed petrol station and the Environment Agency's concern about how its sub-surface tanks may have an adverse impact on the water course in the River Mwldan. I also raised my concern of the proposed 65% food retail / 35% non-food retail split in the store when the Town Council called for a 80% / 20% split to limit the effect felt by the High St non-food retailers.
We shall see what comes of that in due course but in the meantime, today saw a set-back for Tesco and we here in Cardigan will await their new application with interest.