Archived press release
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A survey of local authorities released today by Friends of the Earth today (Thurs 5) reveals that supermarkets and other big retailers are building massive store extensions without planning permission, and that local authorities believe they will face difficulties promoting sustainable town centres without the power to control out of town expansions via mezzanine floors.

Friends of the Earth is seeking an amendment [1] to the Planning Bill, which it expects to be debated in the Lords on Thursday 5th February, to ensure that in future such developments will go through the normal planning process.

The environmental charity argues the loophole in planning law, which allows massive expansions of retail floor space in out-of-town locations, contradicts the Government's recent promise to revive town centres and reduce dependence on out-of-town car-based shopping [2].

Evidence from existing mezzanine floor developments already suggests significant impacts when stores are expanded in this way [3].

More than 13-thousand specialist stores, including butchers, bakers, fishmongers and newsagents, closed between 1997-2002 [4], leaving communities without accessible local shops.

The Government promised to investigate the scale of the problem of internal extensions but has not yet reported on this research.

Asda-Walmart plans to build 40 mezzanine floors in the UK and is using the new floor space for non-food goods, changing the nature of the store and posing a threat to existing town-centre stores.

A Walmart mezzanine floor development in Tamworth has caused considerable concern amongst local authorities across the UK because the council was unable to restrict the store's expansion. [see below].

Sandra Bell, Friends of the Earth Real Food Campaigner said:

"If the Government does not close this planning loophole its promises to revive town centres will sound very hollow indeed. Our local shops and town centres are struggling and these massive store expansions could be the last nail in the coffin for them. The Government must grasp this opportunity to stop the uncontrolled expansion of supermarkets and other stores so that local people have a say and impacts on town centre shops and traffic growth can be assessed."

Friends of the Earth is calling on the Government to tighten up planning policy guidance on retailing and commit to town centres and diversity of retailing by introducing a cap on retail floor space. There is already precedent for this in other European countries, for example in Ireland there is a cap on retail developments over 3,000 square metres and a similar cap exists in Denmark for shops selling daily consumer goods.

Survey Results and regional examples
  • Friends of the Earth surveyed 255 English local authorities
  • The majority of respondents (over 80%) said that they are concerned or very concerned about uncontrolled retail expansion. Three quarters (75%) said that would welcome new powers to control the internal expansion of retail space.
  • 20% of respondents had experienced significant development of retail space by the construction of a mezzanine floor, or the conversion of storage space in the last five years.
  • Although more than half of the respondents use conditions to limit the total retail floor space only 38% of local authorities specifically restrict the internal expansion of stores. This distinction is important because of the appeal case in Tamworth where the inspector concluded that the condition did not apply to a mezzanine floor because it did not mention internal expansion. These results suggest that there is huge scope for future expansion of stores which do not have appropriate conditions attached.
East Midlands:
  • North Lincolnshire Council: an extra floor in an out-of-town Next store doubled the floor space, exceeding the floorspace specified on permission granted by Secretary of State.
  • Rushcliffe Borough Council: a mezzanine floor has been installed at the Asda store in West Bridgford (4645 square metres)
  • South Kesteven Borough Council: mezzanine floor planned at Asda in Grantham, (3000 square metres)
West Midlands:
  • Staffordshire: Asda is going to install a large mezzanine floor (2,788 metres square) in its store in Tamworth. Although there was a condition on the outline permission restricting floorspace expansion the mezzanine was allowed on appeal. The inspector concluded that the condition was not applicable because it did not specifically refer to internal floorspace.
  • Worcester City Council: mezzanine floors have been constructed in 2 Homebase stores, at Elgar Retail Park (1169 sq metres, a 20% increase in floorspace) and at Hylton Road.
  • Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Oswestry Borough Council also report some smaller scale mezzanine floors being built over the last few years.
East of England
  • Norwich City Council reported that furniture store Aldiss has installed a mezzanine floor of 3,000 square metres and that Sainsbury's has converted 300 square metres of storage space into sales space.
North West:
  • Chorley Borough Council: a mezzanine floor is being installed at Asda, Clayton Green, Chorley (1858 square metres)
  • Warrington Borough council: a mezzanine floor of 2000 sq metres has been installed.
South East:
  • Bracknell Forest District Council: mezzanine floors have been constructed at Marks and Spencer at Sandhurst, and at Homebase in Bracknell, both involving a significant increase in floor space
  • Eastleigh Borough Council: a mezzanine floor has been constructed at Marks and Spencer at Hedge End, (2115 sq metres), where permission for an extension had previously been refused by the Secretary of State. Walmart is seeking to double floor space at an existing hypermarket at Chandlers Ford with a proposed 4645 sq metres mezzanine floor. Tesco also wants to install a mezzanine floor of about 3700 sq metres.
  • Mid Sussex District Council and Portsmouth City Council reported smaller scale mezzanine floor developments.
Yorkshire

Friends of the Earth is aware of the following examples of mezzanine expansions in Yorkshire, although neither council responded to the survey:

  • Sheffield: Asda-Walmart has added over 3,000 square metres of mezzanine floorspace for its non-food range. Local MP Clive Betts says that the extension has changed the nature of the store and that local traffic problems have been made worse by the development [4].
  • York: Asda has boasted that its mezzanine-enhanced store brings traffic in from further a field due to the increased range of non-food goods.

Notes

[1] The amendment being tabled by Lib Dem peer Baroness Maddock would bring any internal expansion that would increase the overall retail sales floor area of the building by more than 10 per cent within the definition of development requiring planning permission.

[2] In December 2003 the Government published draft new guidance on retail and town centres and stated that "we must regenerate all our town and city centres". Press release from Office of Deputy Prime Minister 15th December 2003.

[3] In Sheffield Asda-Walmart has added 33,000 sq ft for its non-food range leading local MP Clive Betts to comment that local traffic problems have been made worse by the development. Asda has boasted that its extended York store brings traffic in from further a field due to the increased range of non-food goods.

[4] New Economics Foundation, 2003, Ghost Town Britain II Death on the High Street

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