CASEBOOK: Store considered to harm employment land supply

A DIY store proposal in East Sussex has been rejected on the grounds that it would reduce the supply of allocated high-quality employment land in the area in a case recovered for determination by the deputy prime minister.

The scheme, proposed by Gazeley Properties Ltd and B&Q, was for a 14,297 sq m gross store that included a builder's yard and garden centre. The site had been allocated for class B1 employment development since 1998. The applicants claimed that the development would create 240 full-time and part-time jobs.

The companies' case was that there was no realistic prospect of the land being developed for employment purposes. They asserted that because the site had been used for gravel extraction, any buildings would require piled foundations and careful backfilling, thereby increasing development costs. Viability appraisals demonstrated that B1 use was not commercially feasible, they claimed.

The inspector noted that while the store would create employment opportunities, fewer jobs would probably be created than if the site was redeveloped for business use. He found that the development was contrary to a range of development plan policies seeking to safeguard such land from non-employment uses.

After examining the issues, the inspector agreed that there was a quantitative need for the store and that it would extend the choice of DIY shopping for residents. He accepted that the applicants had adopted a flexible approach to the sequential test, demonstrating that there were no suitable and available sites.

He judged that the development would have a negligible impact on the nearest town centre and that it was unlikely that any existing DIY stores in nearby out-of-centre locations would close, despite the council's assertion that they would. He concluded that the importance of retaining the land for B1 employment use was overriding.

The deputy prime minister accepted that it could not be concluded that there was no alternative to retail development in the foreseeable future, particularly since the demand for quality business accommodation was higher than in the recent past and little space was available in the area. He held that development plan objectives to reduce out-commuting and make the town more self-sufficient in job opportunities should be supported.

He agreed that significant weight could be given to the site's employment allocation, noting that if the proposed store were allowed business floorspace requirements would not be met. He felt that a proposed cross-funding arrangement under a section 106 agreement that sought to stimulate development on an adjoining site was a significant consideration, albeit not a prerequisite of employment development at this location. He also found that allowing the scheme would reduce the residual B1 allocation, undermining its credentials as a strategic employment site.

He concurred with the inspector that there was a qualitative need for the retail development but considered that the scheme's regeneration benefits were not an aspect of retail need, as was made clear in this April's ministerial statement clarifying PPG6 advice (Planning, 18 April, p1). Despite the evidence of retail need, compliance with the sequential approach and lack of harmful trading impact, he ruled that the protection of an employment site allocated in accordance with the development plan was of overriding importance.

DCS No: 54635866; Inspector: Richard Parry; Inquiry.

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