Editor's pick: Sequential test ordered on health centre pharmacy

Plans to extend a north London medical practice to create a pharmacy have been judged to fail the sequential approach to the location of town centre uses and likely to have an adverse impact on existing outlets.

A previous decision had been quashed by the High Court. The main parties disagreed as to whether the sequential test applied. The appellant argued that the pharmacy did not constitute "significant" new retail development exceeding a floorspace threshold of 500 square metres, for which an impact assessment was required under council policies.

In the inspector’s view, this approach ignored a reference in the policy’s supporting text that the sequential approach applied to all new retail development of whatever scale. She overruled the appellant’s claim that the text of the policy itself should be afforded greater weight. On this basis, she concluded that the sequential test did apply.

In accordance with R v Maldon District Council and Tesco Stores ex parte Pattani [1999], she found that pharmacies are a class A1 retail use irrespective of whether they are attached to the medical centre. She noted that the proposed pharmacy would have a separate entrance and could be used by anyone, not just patients at the centre. The fact that it would dispense 65 per cent of the items prescribed at the surgery did not alter this position, she held.

In her opinion, alternative premises capable of accommodating just the pharmacy existed, but the appellant’s business model requiring linkage to the medical centre had precluded them from further investigation. The presence of other pharmacies in a nearby centre was testimony to the fact that they could operate viably without such a symbiotic connection, she reasoned. The sequential test was not therefore met, she ruled.

In addition, the inspector placed significant weight on statements from a local pharmaceutical committee that there was no outstanding need for more pharmacies in the area. She found that the appellant’s business model was predicated on capturing a significant proportion of trade that currently went to the town centre. Since it would have a detrimental impact on existing traders and could reduce linked shopping trips, she decided that it would adversely affect the centre’s vitality and viability.

In dismissing the appeal, the inspector made a partial award of costs to the appellant over the council’s failure to give adequate notice of the hearing date. This apparent administrative oversight had led to the first day of the hearing being abandoned so that local people and businesses could be adequately consulted on the appeal.

Inspector: Louise Phillips; Hearing

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