Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Planning for the Future

Planning committee this afternoon had to consider two fairly large proposals, both of which claimed to be linked to job creation, regeneration and various other good sounding things for the future prosperity of the borough.  First up was a new supermarket in Billingham Town Centre.  I remember that Town Centre being new and fresh when I was studying at "the Tech".  We lived in a flat above one of the shops when first married.  It has a special place in my affections so watching it deteriorate over years has been sad.  To see the new owners managing to encourage new tenants into shops and now proposing a new food store is exciting.  I just hope that Stockland continue to invest not just funds but their energy and enthusiasm into the regeneration of the centre and I look forward to seeing the new store open and trading.
That was a unanimous and fairly easy decision. 
The second one was more difficult.  Teesside Retail Park is a legacy from previous planning regimes about which the least said the better.  It seems to be successful as both a retail centre and a place to go for a meal out, though why one would want to go for a meal to an out of town shopping centre is beyond me.  I'm told that part of the restaurant trade is related to the cinema and bowling alley in the neighbouring Leisure Park.  Be that as it may, the thing which was less successful and is now derelict was a Fitness club.  Today the land owners and developers came to plead the case for a hotel, pub/restaurant and Nandos restaurant to replace it.  We were told it would create 60 Full time equivalent jobs, that the local town council was in favour, that ward councillors thought it a good plan and that we should grab it with both hands.  On the other hand we were told that it was against our core strategy, that each element could be accommodated elsewhere nearer to the town centre, that we need to encourage development nearer to the town centre and not expand the out of town offer.  So planning committee were left to make the decision - grab some investment now in the wrong place or turn it away and aim to get better in the future.  For me there was something intrinsically undesirable about building a pub in a place which needed people to use cars to get there.  It also seemed wrong that we spent 3 years producing a core strategy only to suggest disregarding it when someone came along with a proposal falling outside it.  The debate was detailed and lengthy, and a close vote went against the application.  Only the next few years will show if we were right or wrong.

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