The Mall development contained approximately 145 shops, services and food and drink outlets over two levels within a wider area containing a range of retail warehouses and two large food stores. The application proposed around 35,000 square metres of mainly comparison goods space, a range of class A2 to class A5 uses, a hotel, housing, community facilities, a new bus station and public realm improvements.
One of the local planning authority’s adopted plans outlined a need for approximately 34,000 square metres of additional comparison goods floorspace by 2026. It had resolved to grant planning permission, having concluded that the proposal would satisfy the sequential and retail impact tests. Bristol City Council and developers promoting a scheme in the city centre opposed the development, arguing that their sequentially preferable site could accommodate the planned floorspace and that granting consent could inhibit planned investment in that centre.
The inspector noted that the district’s development plan sought to accommodate 18,000 square metres of the comparison goods space needed to 2021 within existing centres and that the balance of 16,000 square metres was not allocated to specific sites, since this need was more uncertain. She took the view that 35,250 square metres of mainly comparison goods space concentrated in an out-of-centre location would not accord with the development plan strategy. Its scale would exceed the total floorspace that the strategy sought to distribute between existing centres, she remarked.
Turning to the sequential test, she disagreed with the applicants’ claim that the catchment of the proposal would not substantially overlap with that of the city centre. The sequential assessment considered sites with a minimum site area of 2.5 hectares, increasing to 3.2 hectares if 1,250 car parking spaces were added. In her view, a site within Bristol city centre was suitable and available. The secretary of state confirmed that it would be available by 2021, which in his view represented a reasonable period under the revised NPPF.
The inspector concluded that the scheme would have a significant adverse impact, at 6.8 per cent, on the city centre’s comparison goods turnover, although she also found that no other centres within the primary catchment area would be materially affected. She placed weight on the city centre scheme developers’ claim that their project would not proceed if The Mall was allowed to expand. In her opinion, there was no policy requirement for planned city centre investment to be at a "very advanced stage".
While largely endorsing the inspector’s conclusions, the secretary of state decided that the proposal’s impact on the viability of the city centre scheme should not be taken into account because the internal viability assessment had not been tested at the inquiry. However, he found nothing to suggest that the city centre scheme had been submitted as an "artificial construct" intended to act as a spoiler to the application proposal. He found a reasonable expectation that the city centre site would be available by 2021 and decided that this represented a reasonable period of time for development there to commence. The application site did not represent a sustainable location, he held.
Inspector: Christina Downes; Inquiry