Top planner ‘admitted case against Next was ‘weak’

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Proposals for a Next Home and Garden store near Meadowhall were rejected, despite the council’s most senior planner admitting the case was “weak”, a public inquiry was told this week.

Two other council officers thought the go-ahead should be given, it was claimed.

The inquiry is being held after planning permission was refused for the Next development, along with a Sytner car dealership and a drive-through Costa Coffee outlet on an overspill car park off Vulcan Road.

The council argues that the Next store could go in the Moorfoot retail park off St Mary’s Gate, which would help to reinforce, not damage, business in the city centre. It is also opposing what it sees as an extension of Meadowhall, which it says breaches planning guidelines.

British Land, the co-owners of Meadowhall, maintains that the scheme is in line with updated planning rules, which say that permission should be granted unless the adverse impacts signficantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.

And the company sought to make it case at the public inquiry, saying that there was support from experts within the council itself.

Its barrister Christopher Katowski QC said: “Internal emails released by the council show that both its case officer and retail policy officer advised that the proposals should be permitted.

“The council’s independent retail consultants GVA, despite being pressed by head of planning David Caulfield to say otherwise, did not consider it appropriate to refuse the application.

“Even Mr Caulfield repeatedly characterised the case for refusal as ‘weak’ but he wrote the application up for refusal nonetheless.”

Instead of Mr Caulfield heeding national planning policy by looking for ‘solutions rather than problems’, he ‘acted entirely in the opposite manner’.

With evidence from retail consultants GL Hearn, the council insists that it has found an appropriate location for Next at Moorfoot.

Mothercare will vacate its until by July and Staples have indicated “they are willing to vacate their unit”, said Mr Caulfied.

The council’s barrister, Andrew Fraser-Urquhart, said that there was “significant evidence” that the city centre is in a fragile state.

“It requires protection from a potential series of out of centre developments which, whilst individually not having a significant adverse impact on the viability and vibrancy of the city centre, nevertheless cumulatively would have that effect.”