• Sep 22, 2020:
    • Planning committee unanimously approves Sainsbury's supermarket at Ludlow, Rocks Green

      At 3.20pm this afternoon, Shropshire Council's Southern Planning Committee unanimously decided to approve a Sainsbury's supermarket and Argos at Rocks Green. The development will also include a petrol filling station and four EV charging points.

      This is a decision that will divide our town. In my last straw poll, 59% thought Sainsbury's will be good for Ludlow. They wanted a greater choice of shopping. But just over a third of respondents thought the supermarket would be bad for Ludlow. They were concerned with the survival of Ludlow's town centre. Make or break our town, we are going to get what one councillor described as a "gruesome supermarket building".

      The decision came after planning officers spent 20 minutes introducing the scheme after which there was five minutes discussion by planning committee members. I had previous submitted a comment as had the developer. Viv Parry, councillor for Ludlow South and Rocks Green, did not comment or attend.

      This decision ends a planning saga that began in 2014. After a lengthy debate across Ludlow and discussions in two planning committee meetings, the principle of the scheme was approved in 2017. I had proposed rejecting the scheme, but a counter proposal by Gwilym Butler for Cleobury Mortimer put forward approval because he said something "should be done for the ordinary people of Ludlow". The development was approved by a single vote.

      At that point, the committee thought it was approving a scheme with Lidl as the anchor tenant. But after the meeting, Lidl reconsidered its expansion plans and dropped Ludlow. Blackfriars Property began wooing other supermarket chains. Marks and Spencer came into the frame, planning to launch a new format food store in Ludlow. The scheme was redesigned to accommodate M&S. But then M&S walked away. Earlier this summer, Viv Parry and I were told that Sainsbury's was the new prospect.

      Because the scheme was approved in outline in 2017, the planning committee could not reject the principle of the scheme today. It did have the option of rejecting the design of the scheme or to modify the scheme but the only concerns raised by the two committee members who spoke were about plating and lighting. Councillor Cecilia Motley gave the quote of the day along the lines of - 'with the greatest respect to Mr Sainsbury's, supermarkets are not thing of beauty'. She hoped for 'softening of that rather gruesome meeting'.

      The prospect of an out of town supermarket has become much closer to a reality with today's decision. The retail market is more turbulent than ever now and that means even permitted schemes can end up not being built. But Sainsbury's has told us it is keen to get its spades in the ground and get on with the project.

      Blackfriars Property is expected to start work on the site in the next few months to try and get the site reprofiled before the worst of the winter limits large scale earth movement. Working times are limited in the outline planning permission Monday to Friday 07:30-18:00 and Saturday 08:00-13:00. But emergency Covid-19 rules could mean that work continues until 9pm Monday to Saturday. I hope officers will resist any application for extended hours to preserve the peace and quiet of residents of Rocks Green.

      We now need to move our attention back to Ludlow town centre. It has suffered this year with Covid-19 and the need to cancel most festivals. We need to plan for its long term future as a town of independent traders, distinctive shopping and a welcoming place to be.

      It is an irony of the way our system works that we direct a lot of our resources to an out of town supermarket application but have very limited resources to protect one of the finest historic town centres in the country.

    • Sainsbury's statement to planning committee ahead of a decision this afternoon

      This afternoon Shropshire Council's Southern Planning Committee will decide on the application to construct a supermarket and petrol filling station at Rocks Green. Í am expecting the scheme to be improved but it could be better. The meeting starts at 2pm. Sainsbury's is second on the agenda.

      Members of the public can view the meeting using the link on the agenda.

      The statement from consultancy WSP to the Southern Planning Committee 22 September 2020

      20/00840/REM - Agent's Statement on behalf of Blackfriars Property Group and Sainsbury's Supermarkets Limited

      The scheme before Members today represents the culmination of several years of hard work and consultation with local councillors, the local community and planning officers by the applicant. Given the well documented turbulence in the retail sector, it is a massive vote of confidence in Ludlow that Sainsbury's are eager to invest in Ludlow and provide new employment opportunities.

      Sainsbury's are acknowledged to be one of the UK's greenest supermarket operators and they prioritise the use of modern store design to increase store sustainability and achieve maximum energy efficiency in stores. Sainsbury's design is bespoke for Ludlow, and uses natural materials including wood panelling and glazing. Sainsbury's also prides itself on having amongst the lowest carbon emissions of all UK supermarket chains and Electric Vehicle Charging Points are provided within the site.

      Parking spaces will be provided for shoppers in line with the requirements for a store of this size in this location. The site is also served by the 722 bus which services the residential estate to the north and runs via Dun Cow Road, in addition to the number 292 bus which passes the front of the site on the A4117 towards Cleehill.

      In addition to this, Sainsbury's are looking to create a new request bus stop on Dun Cow Road between the car park entrance and the service yard entrance. They would also be happy to allow dial-a-ride vehicles to drop off in the site, if there is a demand for this. Cycle parking is also provided on site to promote cycling to and from the store.

      Level access from the footpath by the pedestrian crossing on the A4117 is provided directly into the store car park, and this caters for pedestrians and people with mobility issues.

      Today presents Members with the opportunity to support the Council's desire to see the site developed and the local economic benefits which the site is capable of bringing to Ludlow, finally realised.

      Sainsbury's investment in Ludlow will create up to 150 new local jobs in the town by the end of 2021. At a time when the local rates of unemployment in Ludlow are on the rise, this is of utmost importance.

      In summary, the strongest and most consistent feedback from people is that they want the store delivered after five years of discussion. If you support the application today, Sainsbury's will be open for next Christmas.

  • Sep 20, 2020:
    • Castle View Terrace development never had much credibility - it now has no shred of credibility left

      Shropshire Homes, already facing massive opposition from residents, has been clarifying its application to build seven homes on Castle View Terrace. At the back of the housing scheme the developer proposes a linear area of public open space. Shropshire Homes this week has explained that it plans to cut three metres off the top of the quarry face, leaving a slope of 45 degrees above an even steeper drop into the quarry.

      People will need to negotiate a difficult slope to access the so-called public open space. The proposed profiling of the site will wreck biodiversity on the site.

      This scheme never had much credibility. It now has no shred of credibility left.

      Shropshire Homes plans to destroy this historic meadow

      At its steepest point, the quarry face rises around 12 metres over a distance of 10 metres. That's steep and it has always been an issue for the Fishmore Quarry development. A retaining fence is planned to prevent residents and houses in the former quarry being hit by slippage from the mudstone quarry face.

      This week, Shropshire Homes has clarified its plans for stabilising for the quarry face and the Castle View Terrace scheme. It confirms it will be reprofile the area at the top of the mudstone quarry face, lowering it by three metres. The slope from the quarry to the back of the garden of the proposed bungalow will be 45 degrees. Residents who want to use the so-called public open space will need to negotiate a steep slope. That defies any reasonable definition of accessible open space.

      The plans submitted by Shropshire Homes are not as clear as they could be and I will be asking for detailed profiling of the site from Castle View Terrace road to the bottom of the quarry face, a drop of about 20 metres over between 70 and 95 metres. Most of that drop occurs in a shorter distance of between 10 and 30 metres. Obviously, there will be some form of barrier to stop the good citizens of Castle View Terrace tumbling down to Fishmore Road. But the proposed area can hardly be described as public open space.

      This area is also described by the developer as part of the environmental network. I get heartily fed up developers who say they will enhance biodiversity by first destroying it.

      The scorched earth policy usually involves reprofiling of land and removal of soil. Soils are critical to our ecosystems and it takes decades for a good soil structure and a rich microfauna and microflora to build up. For this development, we will see not only the reprofiling of the quarry face, the soil on the meadow will also be churned and only partly replaced.

      Shropshire Homes says present pasture has "no ecological benefits". Its ecological consultant says the site is of "low ecological value" which is not quite the same. But this highlights a problem we have long had with ecological reports. Our blinkered planning system uses tick box assessments counting bats, trees, the legendary great crested newts, and much else. But ecological reports rarely get to grips with the full richness of biodiversity on a site. They are pro-forma and designed to comply with legislation, not evaluate the richness or otherwise of a landscape facing the bulldozers.

      The Fishmore Quarry cliff face had grown a natural covering of self-sown trees and shrubs. Too often planners, developers and councillors assume that rewilding places are inferior to a suburbanised planting scheme. At the Southern Planning Committee last month, councillors discussed the proposed eight homes at Linney House. One councillor argued that the trees on the site were self-seeded and of no great value. But, as the council's tree officer made clear, what we are seeing is rewilding and that is good for biodiversity.

      We should be encouraging rewilding with only minimal, essential intervention. Natural succession is the way nature works. It has also been part of our life on this planet for millennia.

      But we are obsessed with scrubbing land bare. With wrecking its ecosystem. Then trying to recreate all that has been destroyed. That takes decades.

      We have too great an obsession with trees that look good to the human eye and not enough on the bugs and beasties that crawl and dig around consuming organic stuff before either becoming compost themselves or food supply for bigger beasts.

      I will be seeking more information on the proposed reprofiling from planning officers and the developer.

      The planning application (20/02971/FUL) is still under consideration by planning officers. There have been 161 objections to this scheme and there is still time to comment.

  • Sep 19, 2020:
    • Ludlow Sainsbury's: My statement to the Southern Planning Committee Tuesday 22 September 2020

      Tuesday is a big day for Ludlow. I am expecting a decision on whether a Sainsbury's and Argos can be built at Rocks Green shortly after 3pm. That decision, providing councillors approve the scheme, will conclude six years of debate. I am expecting a vote in favour of the scheme but planning decisions can be unpredictable. Neither Viv Parry or I will be voting at the committee for different reasons.

      The Southern Planning Committee will meet at 2pm on Microsoft Teams. Members of the public are invited to attend but cannot speak during the meeting under current temporary planning committee rules. To comply with current planning rules, I have submitted my statement to the committee in advance. You can read that below.

      Temporary planning rules in Shropshire require councillors to submit statements in advance in some circumstance. That includes the councillors for the Shropshire Council ward the application site lies in - in this case Viv Parry. Also, councillors who feel they are pre-determined or cannot speak for any other reason. In my case, I have been in close and cordial discussions with Blackfriars Developments for around two years. In such circumstances, it is advisable for members to make a statement to the planning committee and withdraw from the table. These days that means turning off the webcam and microphone.

      This unfortunately means that no one from Ludlow will have a vote on this application, as Viv cannot vote because she is the ward member. That's not ideal but planning decisions need to be squeaky clean and to be seen to be squeaky clean.

      Sainsbury's is the second application on the agenda. That means I can't predict what the time the decision will be made. But I expect councillors to reach a view before 3.30pm.

      20/00840/REM: Statement from Councillor Andy Boddington to Southern Planning Committee on 22 September 2020

      I have chosen to submit a statement rather than speaking on this application. Along with Councillor Vivienne Parry, I have been in discussions with the developer for around two years about the details of the scheme. I forfeit my vote in these circumstances.

      I am not expecting committee members to reject this scheme. It was approved in principle after two lengthy and anguished discussions in this committee in 2017. But if this scheme is approved, we will be approving a scheme we might have been asked to vote on ten or twenty years ago.

      This development could have been built in the 1960s or 70s for all the regard it has to active travel. It is not a 21st century development. It is not a development that Sainsbury's or Ludlow can be proud of.

      This is a car first development. The officer report states:

      "It is not a requirement of the outline planning permission that a bus service be provided into the site, or that bus laybys be provided as part of the development and is not one which can be introduced at the reserved matters stage."

      As a committee, we weren't told that back in 2017 and did not receive officer advice on buses. That has left us with a legacy of one of the most unsustainable developments to be built in Shropshire for many years.

      Motorists will be able to drive up to the front door of this supermarket to pick up and drop off. But more than a quarter of households in Ludlow do not have access to a car.

      How do they get to the store?

      There is no convenient bus stop for this site now or planned. People who arrive on foot or by bus will be required to negotiate an eight-step flight of stairs from Duncow Road. No access ramp is provided. There is no provision for people with mobility issues to gain access the site other than by car. It has just four cycle toast racks.

      This development is discriminatory as it assumes everyone arrives by car. It is designed around the car. It worships the car. It is so twentieth century.

      I am concerned also about the landscape view from the A49. The Rocks Green roundabout is current a soft entry to Ludlow. It will be urbanised in a way that shows no respect to Ludlow, its history and the soft, green landscapes that surround it. This development could be anywhere but here.

      But this supermarket will be here. I believe that we at Shropshire Council have failed in not getting a better scheme.

      We have declared a climate emergency. This supermarket application ticks several boxes on protecting the environment but this scheme is decades out of date.

      I am no longer objecting to a supermarket or other retail facility at Rocks Green. I just want us to do something that is outstanding for Ludlow. There is nothing outstanding about this development. Ludlow and Shropshire deserve a far better scheme.

      I hope that the committee can persuade the developer to produce something better for one of the most historic towns in the country.

  • Sep 18, 2020:
    • Job Watch Ludlow - Unemployment rises again in our town, especially Ludlow North

      This in an unsurprising story. It is not a cheerful story. It is a story that will inevitably get worse. But it is important an important story for our community in Ludlow and for Shropshire.

      More people are out of work and are signing on for benefits. In Ludlow, the number of claimants - people looking for work - grew by 8% between July and August. This is nowhere near as big a jump we saw at the beginning of lockdown but it is an upward trend in a time when jobs are being destroyed, not created.

      Over the last year, Ludlow claimants have increased from 155 to 465 people - a 268% increase. This is higher than the Shropshire and national trends, especially in the Ludlow North ward where the annual growth was 344%.

      This is the second of a monthly series on unemployment data. I don't intend to depress or scare people with the numbers but we do need to understand what is happening in our community during and after the exceptional events of 2020. There are also fears that the number of people looking for work will rise when the furlough scheme ends at the end of October.

      The annual growth was highest for claimants aged 25 to 49 years (307%), followed by ages 16 to 24 (267%), and aged 50 years and over (209%). The graph below suggests that claimants aged 25 to 49 have been hardest hit by lockdown.

      Growth in claimants in the last twelve months

      It remains to be seen whether Ludlow North is being more affected by job losses than the rest of Ludlow and Shropshire. It is a trend I will keep an eye on.

      Percentage of working age population who are claimants looking for work

      Notes

      In this article, Ludlow is the three wards of Ludlow East, Ludlow North and Ludlow South. The North and South wards include areas of Ludlow's rural hinterland.

      Data are from NOMIS and the House of Commons Library.

      Jobless figures, which many of us think of as the sum of the dole queues of old, are not straightforward to interpret. The replacement of Jobseekers Allowance by Universal Credit increased the numbers of those counted as looking for work. This seems to have added around ten to eleven per cent to the count locally over the last few years. During lockdown, Universal Credit was expanded to include people whose income had fallen below a minimum during lockdown. Despite these caveats, the grim reality is that unemployment is rising in Ludlow, in Shropshire and across the country.