After an hour-long discussion, four out of seven Calderdale Planning Committee members voted in favour of the Setbray/Belmont Homes planning application for a supermarket and hotel on the Mytholm Works site.
The Chair, Cllr Daniel Sutherland, who was among those who did not vote to approve the planning application, then declared the planning application was approved.
After the decision, Cllr Young, who objected to the planning application, said:
“This could have a devastating impact on the independent shops in Hebden Bridge and on the Coop.”
Incredible Edible Mytholm Chair Margaret Boyle said,
“What became clear is that the developers didn’t tell the planners that there was an alternative proposal which would have allowed the site to be developed as an employment site in line with current government policies.”
Planning Officers’ “total complacency and lack of local knowledge”
The Planning Committee sat up and listened as Incredible Edible Mytholm Chair Margaret Boyle told them that the Planning Officers’ recommendation to approve the planning application was wrong on two counts.
First, the Planning Officer had assumed that even the worst case scenario, involving a 28.9% loss of trade for town centre businesses, would not cause significant adverse impacts on local consumer choice and trade in the town centre as a whole. Ms Boyle said,
“We say this is total complacency and shows a lack of knowledge of the margins that Hebden Bridge businesses operate on, the hits they have taken from last year’s floods and the resulting insurance hikes. We’ve talked to local businesses and they don’t believe such losses are sustainable.”
Ms Boyle said that the Planning Officers’ second mistake was to accept the developers’ assertion that there is no demand to use this site for employment use – in line with the current Council policy. Ms Boyle said,
“This is not true. The developers know Incredible Edible Mytholm is interested in acquiring the land to set up an intensive indoor permaculture market garden alongside a managed workspace for innovative, closed loop manufacturing. This would create around 50 living wage jobs and the business plan shows how this can be done.”
Planning Officer Daniel Child told the Planning Committee:
“Incredible Edible Mytholm’s proposal has great merits but there is no formal application for that proposal. Councillors should focus on the application in front of them.”
The Planning Committee decision hinged on discussion of whether or not the proposed supermarket would damage the viability and vitality of Hebden Bridge Town Centre, and whether or not the planning application was a purely speculative attempt to increase the value of the site.
The Planning Committee heard a variety of conflicting evidence, from objectors Incredible Edible Mytholm, Chris Beebe on behalf of Hebden Bridge Coop and Cllr Dave Young on behalf of Calder Ward objectors; and on the other hand, from the developers’ agent and the developers’ supporter, Cllr Battye.
They also received Incredible Edible Mytholm’s petition from 305 Hebden Bridge residents and visitors asking the Planning Committee to reject the planning application.
Councillors on the Planning Committee responded to the objectors and developers with a number of more or less searching questions.
Competition – driving down the cost of shopping or driving businesses to the wall?
Questioning Chris Beebe, Cllr D. Hardy said that the arrival in Elland of two supermarkets had driven down the cost of shopping and made the Coop lower its prices. Chris Beebe replied:
“The Elland supermarket has driven down prices and has turned the Coop into a shop that’s losing money and may have to go out of business.”
Cllr D Hardy went on to move that the Planning Committee should permit the planning application. Cllr D Hardy said:
“This is a close one but a lot of the apprehension that’s coming from the locality and the area won’t happen once the supermarket’s there. There is anxiety about competition in the high street in austere times, but competition brings prices down and that’s been very evident in Elland now we’ve got Lidl and Morrison.”
He didn’t consider the fact that if the Hebden Bridge Coop were to go out of business, as a result of competition from a supermarket with the resources to run at a loss until it has driven out the Coop, this would then leave the supermarket free to whack up its prices as it saw fit.
Supermarket: 1. Hebden Bridge residents, and shoppers’ champion Cllr D Hardy: 0.
Incredible Edible Mytholm Chair Margaret Boyle reported on Incredible Edible Mytholm’s retail impact assessment, carried out last January. This showed that most of the Hebden Bridge town centre businesses who took part in the survey anticipated that the proposed supermarket would reduce footfall in the town centre and so damage their businesses, and their local suppliers.
She also reported that many of the 305 residents who petitioned the Planning Committee to reject the supermarket and hotel planning application doubted whether any supermarket or hotel wanted to locate to the site. Ms Boyle said,
“No names have come forward in 18 months, leading people to think that this is simply a cynical move to increase the theoretical value of the land.
Not even the developers’ own survey of public opinion supports a supermarket. Asked what does Hebden Bridge lack, 40% said nothing. Only 14% said a supermarket.”
Cllr Young described the planning application as an ongoing saga and said,
“I’m not convinced that this is a serious planning application. No supermarket is associated with it. The site is worth £600K now and would be worth between £2m-£m if this planning application’s permitted. The application’s more about trying to raise the value of the land, it’s not a serious planning application. We don’t need another supermarket in Hebden Bridge. If this planning application’s passed, it could lead to many business closures in town.”
Uneasy support from Cllr Battye
Cllr Battye spoke in favour of the supermarket and hotel development, while at the same time plonking herself firmly on the fence. Cllr Battye said,
“I’m uneasy about the supermarket planning application. I’m supporting the application, with some reluctance, because of the hotel and car park. The car park could be a backdoor route to a park and ride site for Hebden Bridge and the school car park will take traffic off Church Lane.”
She also said that the supermarket should not be allowed to include a cafe, since that could reduce business in town centre cafes.
The Legal Officer later pointed out that it would be impossible to attach such conditions to the planning permission, that would guarantee unrestricted free car parking and refusal of permission for a supermarket cafe.
A “Modest Proposal”
The developer’s agent refuted the idea that this was not a serious planning application. He said the developers were having “serious discussions” with various supermarkets and with the Best Western hotel chain.
He also claimed that this was a “modest proposal” and said,
“To suggest that the Coop will close as a result of a new supermarket is simply fanciful. Economic activity in Hebden Bridge will increase as a result of the development and there will be an increase in consumer choice.”
Does he know that the original “Modest Proposal” was Jonathan Swift’s satire advocating eating the babies of poor people, as a way of solving the problem of hunger and poverty? Is that what the developers Setbray and Belmont Homes want us to do in Hebden Bridge?
How Councillors voted
Councillors who voted to permit the planning application:
Cllr D. Hardy
Cllr J. Hardy
Cllr R. Thornber
Cllr F. Ali
Those who didn’t vote to permit the planning application:
Cllr D. Sutherland (Planning Committee Chair)
What next for Incredible Edible Mytholm?
IEM Management committee will decide what to do next at the 16th Dec management committee and then take this proposal to Members’ Meeting in the New Year to see what Members think.