Monday, 30 November 2020

Tesco appeal won’t be heard in public

AN appeal by Tesco over its plans to open a branch in Goring will not be heard in public.

AN appeal by Tesco over its plans to open a branch in Goring will not be heard in public.

Instead, planning inspectors will review written evidence for and against the development in private before making a decision.

Campaigners against the proposed shop at the former Queen’s Arms pub in Reading Road have called for a public hearing and have been supported by Henley MP John Howell.

South Oxfordshire District Council, which refused to make a decision on Tesco’s application, also want the arguments to be heard in public.

But the Planning Inspectorate said this week that the issue was not complex enough to justify an inquiry.

Tesco wants to convert the site into a 2,340 sq ft Express convenience store with 14 parking spaces.

It bought the former Greene King pub shortly after it closed in 2013 and submitted a planning application in April last year.

It only sought permission for minor works such as signage as full planning permission is not needed to turn a pub into a shop.

However, the development would expand the premises by 40 per cent. Greene King had been given the green light to extend the building in 2013 but only by about 10 per cent.

The district council said Tesco’s application was invalid and refused to determine it, saying it should reapply for full consent.

Opponents claim there are other grounds for refusing the scheme and without a public hearing these may not be taken into account.

They believe the land should be used for affordable housing as Goring must find room for 105 new homes by 2027.

They also argue that delivery lorries will struggle to access the site so will be parked on the street, blocking views at the junction with Wallingford Road and causing a hazard.

Goring Parish Council objected to Tesco’s application on this basis.

Pressure group Stop Tesco in Goring organised a petition last year which gathered more than 2,000 signatures.

Spokesman Emrhys Barrell said the inspectorate’s decision was a “black day for local democracy”. In a letter to this week’s Henley Standard, he said: “[Objectors] had expected the planning application for the store to be heard in public, with their elected representatives debating the case for and against.

“If [the inspector] decides in favour of the appeal then the applications will be granted and the new store will go ahead regardless of what councillors think.

“Residents will be denied the opportunity for their voices to be heard, both for or against the proposal, or for their elected representatives to have any part in the decision- making process.”

Mr Howell said: “I am very disappointed that they are not going to make the decision in public.

“This is a major issue which has divided Goring and hiding behind a written exercise is not the way to proceed.

“I accept that the inspector will still bear written submissions in mind but this development is highly contentious.

“It is something that does need to be aired in public so that all views can be expressed and everybody feels they have had a fair chance.”

A spokesman for the Planning Inspectorate said no date had been set for a decision. He said: “Written representation is considered most appropriate when the issues can be clearly understood from the appeal documents and a site inspection.

“It may also be chosen if the issues are not complex and the inspector is not likely to need to test the evidence by questioning or to clarify any other matters.

“No matter which procedure is selected, anyone who has an interest in the appeal will have the opportunity to make their views known and those views will be fully considered.”

Meanwhile, Tesco has submitted a second set of identical plans to the district council, which is seeking legal advice on how to proceed.

The company says it will use smaller delivery lorries and has conducted studies proving these will fit on the site.

It says it has spoken to many people who support its plan and it is “confident” the store would be well-used.

Last year, the Goring Gap Business Network carried out a survey in which 169 respondents out of 298, or 57 per cent, opposed the scheme.

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