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War of words brings inquiry to angry end
THE war of words over attempts to redevelop the livestock market in Malton continued as the two key protagonists in the fight clashed at the end of a public inquiry.
Ryedale District Council was accused of money grabbing and shameful naked self-interest in refusing the proposed market scheme.
Equally, Fitzwilliam (Malton) Estate was accused of opposing the council’s backing for a superstore on the Wentworth Street car park because it was motivated, at least in part, by commercial considerations.
However, it was conceded by the council it will be necessary to re-assess its resolution to grant planning permission in the light of the acceptance that the nature and application of the sequential test was not properly spelled out in the livestock market site’s committee report.
The Estate is also pressing ahead for a judicial review of the decision by Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, not to call in the planning permission for a superstore on the car park.
Peter Village QC, representing the Estate, accused the council of “stark unreasonableness” for refusing the proposed scheme to build a medium-sized supermarket and other retail units on the site of the livestock market.
But Jonathan Easton, representing the council, said that while it accepted some of the objections it had relied upon may no longer be tenable, there remained a sound planning basis for refusing the appeal.
Representatives of the farming industry, while acknowledging that the market could not remain on its present site, expressed concern at the short time scale they were being given to find an alternative site, given that the Estate had given notice for the lease held by the auctioneers to end by October 4 next year.
Now, the words and plans produced at the inquiry, which was spread over six days including a site visit, will be checked by Government planning inspector David Wildsmith who chaired the hearings.
Mr Village said the appeal site had long been recognised as requiring redevelopment to extend the existing town centre. It formed a natural and contiguous extension to the principal shopping area in Malton.
He said the council and its advisers had accepted that the site would, in fact, become part of the town centre if developed in the way proposed by the Estate and that it would have a positive effect on the vitality and viability of the town.
It was obvious the scheme complied both with the national planning policy framework and the existing development plan policy, he said, adding: “The stark unreasonableness of the council’s position and the absence of any substance in the reasons for refusal has become even more pronounced.
“The council’s continued opposition to the scheme is a gross abuse of its functions as a local planning authority. It is also highly irresponsible.
“Its unreasonable stance is only explicable – though not forgivable – by the commercial interest it has pursued in promoting its own retail development on the significantly less sequentially preferable site at the Wentworth Street car park.
“This is a simple case of money-grabbing misuse of planning powers by a council, he added.
“It is shocking to see the long-term interests of a market town sacrificed for short-term financial gain.
“The reasons for refusal were the barest fig-leaves but they have been unable to conceal the shameful naked self-interest of the council that has motivated it all along.”
The position was all the more unfortunate given the “overwhelming” credentials of the appeal scheme by the Estate which had a historic and continuing passion for promoting the long-term sustainable future of Malton as a market town, said Mr Village.
The scheme had been designed with devotion and care over the past 10 years, he said, to provide a boost to the town centre in retail terms and removed what the council itself regarded as an eyesore with the anachronistic and unsustainable use of town centre land for a livestock market.
“It is a scheme which injects vitality into the very heart of the town in terms of retail use, functioning viability and architectural quality,” said Mr Village.
The Estate was “deeply committed” to protecting the town centre and its vitality and viability and it would make no sense to promote a scheme which did anything but boost that.
Mr Easton, for the council, stressed that the council did not object to the principle of redeveloping the livestock market site and was actively promoting its through the local plan strategy. Nor did it wish to hold up development indefinitely.
The council recognised that it was a key site for Malton and had been advised it offered excellent potential for retail uses.
“It is this potential that makes it so important that the right scheme comes forward,” said Mr Easton.
On the best evidence available, the appellant’s desire to unlock the financial potential of the site would only be delayed until April 2015.
“Given that the appellant takes an extremely long-term view – a point emphasised on more than one occasion – this is hardly an unacceptably long time to wait.
“Indeed, the time could be spent in producing a scheme that better fits into this historic market town.
“To allow a proposal which does not make the most of the location, which is poorly designed, does not properly fulfil the needs of Malton and which will cause the loss of an important social and economic asset, would represent a significant missed opportunity and one that the town will have to live with for many years to come.”
Mr Easton argued that the Estate, given the amount of time and effort it had spent in “rubbishing” the car park scheme, was “extremely worried” about the consequences of a rival operator setting up on the car park.
“This is hardly surprising given that the car park site is likely to be more attractive to a supermarket operator than the livestock market site,” said Mr Easton.
He said the resolution to approve the car park scheme represented a clear commitment by the council to back that scheme, following a detailed consideration of the planning merits of that proposal, and Mr Easton argued that the inspector could be assured that scheme was deliverable.
Mr Easton said: “We now accept it will be necessary for members [of the council] to re-assess their resolution to grant planning permission in the light of the concession that the nature and application of the sequential test was not properly spelled out in the livestock market site committee report.
He said the Estate, by pursuing a convenience-led scheme, denied Malton and Ryedale the “perfect opportunity” to address the area’s greatest retail deficiency – the lack of high street retailers to fill the major gaps offered by Malton such as fashion and clothing.