Councillors warned on Tesco decision
SHAUN LOWTHORPE Councillors who rejected plans for a controversial Tesco store were today warned that they may have to foot the bill of any legal challenge themselves after officers said they could not support the reasons for their decision.
Councillors who rejected plans for a controversial Tesco store were today warned that they may have to foot the bill of any legal challenge themselves after officers said they could not support the reasons for their decision.
Members of Norwich City Council's planning committee last month turned down a bid by the shopping giant for an Express store in Unthank Road.
The committee agreed to meet again today to give their detailed reasons for saying no, but found themselves issued with an 'on your head be it' warning after going against their own officers' advice.
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More than 400 people have opposed the application, the third time Tesco have tried to build a store on the site of the former Arlington Service Station in the heart of the so-called 'Golden Triangle'.
But at the start of the packed session, John Jones, the council's head of law, said officers could not support the reasons for rejecting the scheme.
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And there was anger when councillors were asked to take a fresh look at the decision in what appears to be a lingering fear that the decision will be torn to shreds by Tesco lawyers if the firm appealed.
The last time the council lost an appeal in 2005, over the issue of affordable homes at the St Anne's Wharf scheme, it was faced with a £93,000 legal bill.
Today a fresh vote to reaffirm the decision was split and only won on the casting vote of committee chairman David Bradford, so it is not clear which councillors would be liable.
“The consequence of that is that if it goes to appeal and the appeal is upheld and costs are awarded then members could be responsible for the costs themselves,” Mr Jones said. “They need to make their decision in the light of the full facts of that and I am obliged to point that out.”
Green councillor Adrian Holmes said he was concerned that the vote was an attempt to unpick the previous rejection.
“The thing that is really worrying me is that we are being asked to reconsider a decision we have already made,” he said.
Labour's Michael Banham, who moved that the scheme should be rejected last time around, said: “I put a motion forward to say it should be rejected on safety grounds. As far as I am concerned that decision was taken. We are only here to consider the detailed wording of why it's rejected.”
After the first vote, councillors spent more than 90 minutes thrashing out a form of words put forward by Lib Dem councillor Hereward Cooke stating the scheme should be turned down for two reasons.
First they said the scheme would create congestion because of the extra vehicles including customers and deliveries coming in and out of Trinity Street and poor visibility at that junction.
Secondly they said cutting the numbers of parking spaces from nine to five when delivery lorries arrived would also cause more jams.
Green county councillor Andrew Boswell, told the meeting that there was a compelling case for refusal.
“It's actually quite possible to make a strong defendable case for refusal on the basis of highways safety,” he said. “There is also the possibility of making a strong case on the basis of inadequate car parking.”
While his city colleague Adrian Ramsay said he was concerned officers were adopting “scare tactics” because they feared that the authority would lose an appeal
“I don't want the precedent that was attempted to be set to come up in the future,” he said.
Tesco spokeswoman Carol Leslie said the firm was still considering its next move.
“As we said at the last committee meeting we are disappointed by the decision and equally very surprised that the members did not listen to the professional advice of their planning officer who recommended that this application should be approved,” she said. “We will await the Decision Notice and consider our options.”