Minister blocks plan to double size of Cribbs Causeway out-of-town mall over sequential test failure

The communities secretary has refused plans that would have seen the Cribbs Causeway shopping centre near Bristol almost double in size, after he concluded that there was a sequentially preferable site for such a scheme in the centre of the city.

Cribbs Causeway: retail expansion plans refused (pic: murray via Flickr)
Cribbs Causeway: retail expansion plans refused (pic: murray via Flickr)

Former communities secretary Sajid Javid called in the scheme in March 2017.

The outline application, which South Gloucestershire Council had resolved to approve in November 2016, included plans for 32,250 square metres of new retail space, 8,980 square metres of financial and professional services and food and drink uses, 7,620 square metres of leisure space, a hotel, 150 flats, a multi-storey car park and a new bus station.

The current shopping centre, known as The Mall at Cribbs Causeway, covers approximately 68,000 square metres and the expansion would add approximately 60,000 square metres.

The application had been opposed by Bristol City Council.

This week, a letter issued on behalf of communities secretary James Brokenshire said that the minister had decided to refuse the application, in line with a recommendation from a planning inspector.

The letter said that Brokenshire agreed with the inspector that the council cannot demonstrate a five-year housing land supply, as required by national planning policy, "but this is of limited relevance because there is no dispute that this part of the project would be likely to come forward in a later phase of the development".

It said that he further agreed with the inspector that "the provision of homes is a benefit that would ensue from the application proposals" and that the proposed affordable housing provision would be "a significant benefit" of the application proposals.

However, the letter added that, "given the timing of delivery [of the homes], the secretary of state considers that the provision of housing and affordable housing carries moderate weight in the planning balance of this case".

On the key issue of whether the proposals would be compliant with the sequential test, as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, the letter said that both Brokenshire and the inspector had concluded that an alternative site in Bristol city centre had been identified that was both "suitable and available".

The letter said that Brokenshire had "concluded that the case for Callowhill Court being a sequentially preferable site has been made".

"The Callowhill Court application site would seem of sufficient size to accommodate the relevant parts of a broadly similar development proposal", the letter said.

Brokenshire and the inspector also considered that there was "a realistic expectation that a cleared Callowhill Court site would be available by mid to late 2021". Planning consent has been secured for the Callowhill Court scheme.

This was consistent with the NPPF provision that sites cited as sequentially preferable in reasons for refusal for out-of-town applications should be available "within a reasonable period", the letter said.

The Cribbs Causeway proposal would "would fail the sequential test", being contrary to local and national planning policies, the letter said.

Elsewhere, the letter said the Cribbs Causeway proposal would be "likely to have a significant adverse impact on planned private investment and the vitality and viability of Bristol city centre".

Brokenshire also concluded that the application proposals "would be contrary to national and local planning policy in respect of being in a sustainable location that would be accessible by means of travel other than the car".

In April last year, South Gloucestershire Council approved plans for a new leisure complex, including an indoor ice rink, indoor ski venue and an indoor skydiving venue, also at the Cribbs Causeway shopping centre. This was referred to the secretary of state but, according to the inspector’s decision note on the retail expansion, the minister declined to call it in.

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