ANALYSIS: Tanner on ... retail overload in the city that keeps saying yes

As correctly forecast in this column (Planning, 27 June, p9), Cardiff's planning committee has approved a massive mixed-use development in the crowded south-west sector of the city, including a new sports stadium for Cardiff City Football Club, newly promoted to the first division.

To help pay for the stadium, the developers have included around 40,000 sq m of out-of-town retail space along with a package of other commercial goodies in their plans for the area.

You would have thought that the retail element of the package might have struggled to gain approval, given that the Welsh Assembly Government and Whitehall require such out-of-town developments to submit to the sequential and needs tests before gaining planning consent. This policy context, the approved plans for an even larger retail development in Cardiff city centre, the presence of a huge out-of-town shopping accumulation just to the north at Culverhouse Cross and another to the south, recently expanded to include Wales' first Ikea store, plus plans for yet more shopping as part of a "sports village" in the area would seem to indicate that this is the spot least in need of further retail development in the whole of Wales.

The inevitable media hysteria in favour of a sports stadium seems to have overwhelmed rational planning considerations at all levels. Not only did the city council resolve to grant planning permission, admittedly subject to a host of conditions, but the Welsh Assembly Government declined to call in the application. So Cardiff is set fair for retail overload and, in passing, traffic chaos in an area ill-served by public transport.

In the light of these unfortunate developments, I am offering the planning world a new concept - the "Cardiff needs test". This questions not the qualitative or quantitative need for out-of-town retail development but simply asks: "Does the developer need the money?" This test was pioneered by the assembly's own planning panel last year in considering an appeal by Marks & Spencer to add a huge extension to its existing out-of-town store on Cardiff's western fringe. The panel duly overruled the inspector's policy-based recommendation to refuse and approved the development, pointing out that the retailer needed the extra floorspace.

I now get off my high horse to admit that the Tanners will be overcoming their planning policy scruples and heading for Ikea as soon as it opens, although we are as likely to spend as much time in the traffic jams as in the store. Still, it could be worse - and it soon will be.


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