Pyramid Comment

This journal takes an alternative view on current affairs and other subjects. The approach is likely to be contentious and is arguably speculative. The content of any article is also a reminder of the status of those affairs at that date. All comments have been disabled. Any and all unsolicited or unauthorised links are absolutely disavowed.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sainsbury's Trading: Westgate-on-Sea

Application status: NOT APPROVED

Sainsbury's should find

sustenance to feed

its shareholders elsewhere

These statements nail the ethos of this article firmly to the wall at the outset and the explanation for these pre-emptive statements is discussed in what follows, though it must be borne in mind that from a practical objection platform, only certain criteria can be considered. Other issues may be ignored.

What sort of things can be taken into account?

They are wide ranging and include:
  • The effect of the proposed development on the appearance of the area
  • The quality of the design
  • Significant overbearing impact and loss of outlook
  • The economic benefits of the proposal
  • Highway safety issues
  • Loss of important trees
  • Intrusion into the countryside
  • Significantly increased noise and disturbance

What cannot be taken into account?

Many concerns cannot be addressed through the planning process, these include:
  • Loss of view
  • Loss of property value
  • Breach of covenant
  • Loss of trade to a competitor
  • The level of profit a developer might make
  • Personal circumstances of the applicant (in most cases)
  • Moral objections e.g. to uses such as amusement arcades and betting offices
  • Ancient rights to light

Clearly, the single issue in the list above that cannot be taken into account is the loss of trade to a competitor. This features as one of the major concerns and is therefore expected to fail at the outset. Considerations that may apply reduce to three possible issues:

  • The economic benefits of the proposal
  • Highway safety issues
  • Loss of important trees
The lists are described as 'include'' and so the interpretation is that they are not exhaustive. The 'economic benefit' must consider the 'economic deficit' or balance is lost entirely. This would also present a discriminatory quality that presumably'loss of trade to a competitor'  is intended to prevent.

Guide to making comments
on Planning Applications

Sainsbury's is a commercial operation and exists to create a profit and not to provide a service. With that point of view in mind, the proposed siting at Hundred's Farm is probably a fair choice assuming that there are no other 'favourable' locations. The assessment here is that this is probably the worst position from the environmental, safety and simply practical perspective. Making a profit means providing a service in order to do just that. Paradox?

Cynical? Westgate-on-Sea does not need a supermarket parasite trader to feed off local people. But perhaps indirect competition would have a positive effect on 'convenience' stores (Co-operative) already in the 'village'. This store is regarded as being more expensive to those in other more distant areas. It is not uncommon practice for a large national concern to undercut local traders with 'loss leaders' and subsidise the markdown. The trading loss. If there is no real competition then prices will generally be higher than other outlets. Market forces. The consequence is that small businesses close because of the unfair competition. The non-level playing field. Eventual profit ends up with the shareholders and is not ploughed back into the community from which it came.

The supermarket has greater purchasing power than the smaller business and this results in salable items offered at lower retail prices than the competition without any undercutting. Bookshops are nearly always undercut, but with a much more limited range of products. Mostly the popular titles and not the more specialist ones. The consequence of this is that the competition just disappears. A small local trader has a greater interest in the returning customer than the bigger store. Customer after-sales service is commonly much greater. The returning customer for a second, third... purchase is very important. Items like TVs and DVD recorders can be delivered, installed and properly set up. The larger concern is quite content at the sale itself and nothing else. Customer is out of the door and forgotten. Possibly, an extended warranty may apply, but after sales? Only the legal minimum that is necessary. Nothing more. The local small business will have a quite different attitude. It's in their interest to be interested.

  • Is Westgate-on-Sea a village or a town? This may appear a trivial point, but when planning jargon talks of the 'town centre' or district centre it could become a very important distinction.
The growth of a community is in the hands of local residents. The spectre of Westwood X is a red herring. Of sorts. Allegedly, this centre would not harm trade. Actually, Margate has been degenerated as a result: 1950s & 1960sAugust 2007. The pier has long gone. Dreamland has gone. There has been a general decline ever since. Certainly not at the time, but after. Centres like Westwood X have not helped to promote the town.

Turner 'Contemptible' - Developments
Turner 'Contemptible' Saga Continues
Turner 'Contemptible' Shuns Local Writers

Out-of-town 'shopping' is the modern method of growth. That is the perception though a case can be made for a more cynical scenario:

create the problem,
provide the solution

The examples of Canterbury, Maidstone or Ashford could be cited as competitors. Then there's Lakeside or Bluewater. Certainly, shoppers use these centres since local shops do not provide all the commodities offered. On-line shopping is popular (Tesco and Sainsbury) and the threat is to groceries and other perishables is very real and not just perceived as a threat. But that's only part of the problem. Another issue is the/goY.Yu al impact: wildlife, schools and general safety.

Loss of trade will not be taken into account, but the important issues that must be considered are:
  • Highway safety
  • Loss of important trees
These two factors will be focussed upon. Not the trading competition. That will be ignored by the planning department. Unfair maybe, but these are the constraints. When your hands are tied, it is wise to learn how to fight from inside a straightjacket.

The precedent has been established with the Tesco Express store at Westbrook, MARGATE. To site a store at the busy junction at the foot of a railway bridge on a main road would be terminally unwise. But Thanet District Council sanctioned just that. Sometimes the area can be quiet (early to late evening and at night), but at other times (weekdays between 8.00am - 9.30am and 4.00pm - 7.00pm and on a Saturday at all times) it can be very chaotic. Traffic caused by those going to work in and out of Thanet, school buses, usual local peak-period traffic, pedestrians... and no control to manage traffic. There is no safe, nearby crossing (pelican light-controlled, zebra crossing). It's unlikely that this business will pay for additional safety features and presumably, there was no provision in that planning application. This store is located in a peculiarly dangerous position. It already had a very dangerous interaction with general traffic movements and is now even more so.

Blocking the road at an island in the main road would be criminally insane. And this at a junction of crossing-over traffic at the foot of the railway bridge where cars can be parked on the pavement since there is nowhere else to leave a car. The extent of the problems caused by store deliveries cannot yet be assessed properly, but clearly the store will have daytime deliveries and that is predicted to cause major problems. A large lorries have already been observed parked on the few car spaces in the road just beyond the store while unloading can be effected. It must be parked somewhere to allow its contents to be unloaded. Even if technically legally parked, it takes up parking spaces that provide for probably a total of only five cars. If sensibly positioned. This is NOT Tesco customer parking, but general public (non-payment) parking. A moral issue (BIG business and morals? Don't think so - DA)

  •  There is apparently land behind this site for parking, but from the business perspective, Tesco is already operating before work may have been completed or it's a 'wait and see' situation to determine if the expense is unnecessary. There is no signage to store-only customer parking.
  • There is a narrow passage beside this store, but going where? Is this for future development and is Tesco operating before the approved plan is complete?

That some consumers couldn't care less is demonstrated by their pathetically selfish attitude to 'convenience' parking.

'It's OK, I'll only be here for a moment'

Regardless of future actions, joining the main Canterbury Road to turn either way will present serious traffic issues.


Drivers cannot be 'trusted' to be sensible (assuming that they usually behave normally). Look at those who speed or abuse disabled parking and there are lots of those. Because they cannot be bothered to walk a small distance from a properly parked vehicle.

You have my parking space,
do you also want my disability?

'Convenience' stores, it seems, are a 'convenience' only for able-bodied customers.

Planning laws seem to be open to abuse and an implied vested interest. It seems that the initial planning approval will pass through the whole planning committee. But after approval, an amendment can be authorised without negotiation. At the public consultation stage Sainbury's quoted a store size of 12,000 sq ft. The submitted plans had a 'footprint' of 20,000 sq.ft. This suggests an amendment could be submitted to expand the store. Parking would become a major issue. An increased store area would by necessity ensure car parking areas are consumed. There is only a fixed size at the Hundred's Farm site. This is out-of-town retail shopping coming home. The scene has been set for large stores and the writing on the wall has already been placed by Sainbury's.

Big business takes precedence over smaller concerns. Presumably, the business rate yield is much greater than a few private houses (Council Tax). The example is the 14 properties that were refused planning approval at the Hundred's Farm site because of concerns regarding the extra traffic caused by joining the busy arterial road (A28) between Westgate-on-Sea and Birchington-on-Sea. It seems that the Sainsbury application did not have this difficulty.

The Sainsbury pledge that some 150 jobs will be created is viewed with more than just a drizzle of disdain. Of the proposed 91 car-parking space allocation, none is reserved for the exclusive use by staff. The customers and staff will have to 'share' parking arrangements. UK labour law it seems disallows holding jobs for local people and much like Thanet Earth, many 'jobs' could theoretically be 'given' over to foreign workers. Sainsbury's have even claimed to allow parents to 'drop-off' their school-age children in this car-park to minimise the hazard that Sainsbury's may itself cause. Delivery times are unknown except that there will be two per day. There is apparently only provision for one lorry on site at any one time.

  • Turning facilities?
  • Reversing out (illegally) into oncoming traffic (+40mph)?
  • Access roads?
Early morning deliveries are expected due to the nature of perishable short-shelf-life products: milk, bread... A potential clash can be predicted here between school opening times and Sainsbury's morning deliveries. The delivery issue to the Westgate-on-Sea Co-operative store completely blocks a road off the main high-street until the delivery is complete.

Sainsbury's Application

Apparently, some documents/drawings cannot be uploaded onto the website. The reason for this is not explained, so the cannot is perhaps will not?
  • Design & Access statement
  • Proposed elevation drawings
  • Proposed street elevation drawings

The construction of modified access roadways was briefly mentioned at the Carlton Cinema (16th April 2012) meeting, but nothing explained about the dangers during construction. Plans of the layout are scant and conveniently skirted over. A report will ultimately be written that claims it will detail all the objections. Fairly and honestly. No skewing of any of the issues in any party's favour.

  • How can this be verified before the report is submitted? This must be taken entirely on trust (what? It seems that Louis doesn't trust the planning committee at the council! - DA).
  • Once applications have been received, they will generally be determined as submitted (the original applications - DA), without negotiation (it saves time - DA). In some circumstances negotiation may take place, but only where the following considerations apply:
    • Major changes will only be considered if they are determined as being in the wider public interest (and who 'determines' that? - DA) and there is a high prospect of the negotiations succeeding (rather reminiscent of the Crown Prosecution Service - DA) and significant benefits would be secured for the community which would be lost if an early refusal were given. If any (one - DAof these criteria is not met the application will normally be determined without negotiation (a forcing action - DA).
    • In the case of minor amendments, there must be agreement from the applicants that a strict timetable is adhered to for the submission of revised plans and documentation. If the amendments are not received within the prescribed timescale the application will normally be determined without them.

  • When amendments are received, a decision is made (!) as to whether further advertising and consultation is required. The decision to re-advertise and/or re-consult will depend upon a combination of factors, including:
    • Whether there is a significant change to the character or description of the proposed development

    • Whether any neighbours could be affected

    • Whether the amendments are likely to impact on the previous response from a consultee
Notice how the National Planning Policy Framework, support for town centres ('ensuring the vitality of town centres' [27th March 2012]) does NOT mention out-of-town centres. The actual wording does not appear to imply any trace of cynicism. It defines the actual letter without any assumptions.

  • Management and growth of town centres
  • Recognise town centres
  • Promote competitive town centres that provide customer choice and a diverse retail offer and which reflect the individuality of town centres
  • Allocate a range of suitable sites to meet the scale and type of retail... It is important that needs for retail, leisure, office, and other main town centres are met in full and are not compromised by limited site availability. Local planning authorities should undertake an assessment of the need to expand town centres to ensure a sufficient supply of suitable sites.
    • Does that mean expand a town centre and thus create suitable sites within that larger (not out-of-) town centreDA
  • Where town centres are in decline, local planning authorities should plan positively for their future to encourage economic activity.
    • Is that not the point, Louis? The town centres are NOT YET in decline and out-of-town stores are by definition not in-town centres. The point is irrelevant so cannot apply - DA
  • Edge-of-centre sites (out-of-town is not on the edge! It is out-of-town - DA) should only be considered if there are no centre sites available
  • When assessing applications for retail, outside of town centres, which are not in accordance with an up-to-date Local Plan local authorities should (that seems like offering choice: optionalDArequire an impact assessment (where is it? - DA) if the development is over a proportionate, locally set floorspace threshold. The floorspace threshold default is 2,500 sq metres (= 50 metres square or 164 ft square = 26,896 sq ft). Submitted plans are for 20,000 sq ft and the proposed footprint size equates to just over 141 ft square. (A carefully chosen maximum size? But the Hundred's Farm site is a fixed size though it seems no impact assessment will be requiredDA).
  • The assessment should include the impact of the proposal on town centre vitality and viability, including local consumer choice and trade in the town centre and wider area, up to five years from the time the application is made. For major schemes, but when does minor become major or the other way around? 
    • What is the out-of-town convenience store? Minor or major? - DA
  • Where an application is likely to have significant adverse impact on one or more...  it should be refused.
'Should' does not define 'will'. Just the possibility.
'Must' is far more meaningful, though it's much
less flexible. Leaves little wriggling room

All applications for retail development will be required to demonstrate the need for the proposed development and that there is no sequentially preferable location. And that there is no unacceptable impact on the vitality and viability of existing centres. And that the location is accessible.

  • Edge of centre developments will be the key to economic regeneration in many towns. Edge of centre will have to be defined carefully but the idea is that people can still walk there from the town centre… developments that contribute to the town’s amenities that could have been turned down under the current need test……An edge of centre development has to complement the town centre.
Sainsbury's allege that both Westgate-on-Sea and Birchington-on-Sea are 'healthy' and could therefore withstand any impact (aka competition) from Sainsbury's. They further claim that the impact on the turnover of businesses in Westgate-on-Sea would be just 9.47%. So, an entire town loses about 10% of its total business trading (that's a lot for an entire town to withstand - DA) and a single parasite (trader - DA) sucks it all up. Presumably, this means that they are both prime targets to be plundered. Being 'healthy'. Sainsbury's feeds and everything else withers and dies. Being out-of-town (between Westgate-on-Sea and Birchington-on-Sea, but in neither) any 'neighbour' issue will possibly be ignored.

The safety issue concerns many potential hazards. Nearby schools populate the local roads with children. The local road is a dual-carriageway between Margate, Westbrook, Westgate-on-Sea and Birchington-on-Sea. It seems that parking on a dual-carriageway is legal, though it is very dangerous. Suddenly, a dual carriageway becomes a single carriageway. And over the brow of a hill and without warning. The road between the two towns (Westgate-on-Sea and Birchington-on-Sea) has several dips in which vehicles, especially cars, can disappear. Speed cameras create the usual problem of those driving fast slamming on brakes at the last minute to escape any possible speeding prosecution. All of this already around schools and bus-stops.

There have been promised two store deliveries every day from entering Birchington-on-Sea from the west. Negotiating the town centre (small 'hump-roundabout' with a difficult in-and-out swan-neck) is a problem being positioned just after a narrow minor road joining the main road. And the addition of a pelican light-controlled crossing. On exiting Birchington-on-Sea, another pelican light-controlled crossing is encountered. Further on (still 30mph), the dual carriageway begins (40mph) that is just before the King Ethelbert school and the bus-stops, one on each side of the road. Crossing the dual carriageway here is highly dangerous with some drivers already having reached and surpassed the speed limit (and often before the speed-change sign) after leaving Birchington-on-Sea. On the same side as the school, traffic (legally) passes the school at 40mph before reaching the speed reduction sign (to 30mph).

  • There is nowhere for articulated lorries to turn. Coming in from west Thanet, lorries would have to turn across the dual carriageway just outside Birchington-on-Sea or continue in towards Margate where there is still nowhere to turn until near Margate Railway station. That in itself presents a difficult turn.
Sainsbury's have no provision for more than one lorry being on site at any one time. Turning within the proposed site will be extremely difficult, if possible.

  • The supermarket threat is a recurring theme. The concept that Sainsbury's may have purchased the land at Hundred's Farm just to stop Tesco buying it up is probably specious, even if possible.
This all promises to be a very real nightmare. The Sainsbury case has been very poorly mounted . In fact it has not made a case at all and many reasonable objections are all entirely valid and realistic. Lives are being put at risk and potentially lost. Towns possibly decimated. All for the profit of shareholders and growth with little or no interest in local communities. The nameless 'Big institutions' will be amongst the few Winners, but there promises to be plenty of Losers. Sainsbury's claim to be proud of 'being at the heart of a community'. The suggestion here is that it will tear out that heart.

In conclusion, the Sainsbury case is very weak in terms of need and the environmental issues are far reaching. Even if there are solutions to the many problems outlined, the cost would far outweigh the commercial viability of a small convenience-type store. It all smacks of a forcing action: coerce, trick, seduce (railroading) and walking over the local community.

With complete impunity