Hatters and C&R have opposing views about significance for Luton of Secretary of State’s retail scheme rejection in Bristol

Newlands Park image
Newlands Park image

Luton Town say the Government’s rejection of an out of town retail centre expansion in Bristol last week “changes nothing” regarding their Newlands Park plans, although the owners of The Mall Luton beg to differ.

Cribbs Causeway’s planned £300m extension for dozens of new shops and restaurants, a hotel, flats and an indoor ski centre had been backed by South Gloucestershire District Council in 2016, amid protests from Bristol City Council, town centre retailers and MPs.

A 3D model of the plans for Newlands Park

A 3D model of the plans for Newlands Park

But Sajid Javid, then the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, called for a review of the development and its impact.

And his successor in the role, James Brokenshire, has now blocked the project in his first major town centre versus out of town ‘call in’ decision.

Hatters say Newlands Park, which will provide retail/office/leisure space near M1 J10, is needed to finance a new stadium at Power Court.

The Hatters’ schemes were first submitted in August 2016, with Newlands likely to include 65% “luxury” retailers and 35% mass market outlets. The club say the scheme will complement and not compete with The Mall, but Capital & Regional, who own the shopping centre, claim it will have a serious impact on the town centre.

Gary Sweet

Gary Sweet

Michael Moran, Chief Operating Officer for 2020 Developments has previously told this website, if approved, both schemes would automatically go to the Secretary of State, due to their scale, but was confident they wouldn’t be “called in”, adding: “They would have been properly prepared, properly considered by the local authority and supported by local people, so you are starting to be in a good place with the Secretary of State.”

In the wake of the Bristol decision, Hatters chief executive Gary Sweet: “Town centre first is an accepted part of the planning process. We are bringing forward Power Court because we feel passionately that Luton town centre needs a facelift and we’re happy to invest in it.”

He said Newlands couldn’t be compared to Cribbs “first and foremost because Newlands Park meets the sequential test.

“Specifically then there are a number of differentiating points. Simple case is, Luton needs more retail. It leaks retail spend north and south; money that could be spent in Luton.

“There is nowhere in the town centre than can cater for a new retail scheme and no differentiating retailers who want to come to Luton town centre. Therefore the next best thing, sequentially, is edge of town. We differentiate from Cribbs because our scheme fulfils the retail need our town is desperate for.”

On the chances of Newlands being called in, he said: “Every case is different. We have worked tirelessly to deliver a wide ranging proposal that meet a lot of aspirations for the local community. If you believe our retail scheme has a negative impact, this will be more than swamped by the positive impacts at a multitude of levels. All matters are considered here.”

In a statement to this website, C&R has listed the reasons why Cribbs was refused planning permission and insist all the points also apply to Newlands and support refusal by Luton Council and a likely call-in refusal by the Secretary of State.

They claim Cribbs was:

> contrary to the Local Plan and national policy.

> it failed the sequential test (town centre first).

> it would have had a harmful impact on the existing city centre.

> it would have had a harmful effect on future, planned investment in the city centre.

> it was not a sustainable development.

> the viability evidence was not made available for public review which was procedurally unfair and could not therefore be taken into account.

But Mr Sweet said: “Newlands Park is in line with both local and national policy. The Inspector for the Luton Local Plan couldn’t have been clearer in saying this.

“Policy LLP40 identifies that an Early Review of the Plan will address issues relating to LTFC, Power Court and Newlands Park. It further states that the review will take into account the outcome of the two planning applications and nothing in the Plan should prejudice the proper determination of the applications by LBC. Beyond this Newlands Park assists in delivering £250m+ a year to the local economy and over 10,000 jobs.

“Newlands Park meets the sequential test. Even if there was sufficient space for additional retail to come into Luton town centre the demand from tenants offering a better retail experience simply isn’t there, as testified in Graham Chase’s report.

“Newlands Park categorically will not have a harmful effect on the town centre and will not effect planned investment, quite the contrary. Indeed Newlands facilitates such town centre investment at Power Court and together the two sites will act as a catalyst for growth, aspiration and further commercial investment into the town.

“Newlands is absolutely a sustainable development. We’ve carefully recruited the best consultants in the industry, as in all aspects of our plans, to tell us what we want to build is absolutely sustainable.”

He continued: “Viability is not an argument being made in our applications, as is the acceptable and correct process. Needless to say, together, both schemes are indeed very deliverable and if they weren’t why would we be investing over £25m of our own private cash purchasing land?

“These issues have been considered by LBC a very long time now and we await their outcome with confidence that our case has been managed and considered thoroughly and professionally. We are committed then to bringing forward the applications via detailed design and construction plans at the earliest opportunity to ensure the town and region benefit from the two proposals as soon as possible.”

But C&R view Mr Brokenshire’s ruling to be “an important re-statement of Government planning policy and of direct relevance to Luton.”

A statement read: “The Cribbs decision makes clear that the SoS attaches great importance to the ‘town centre first’ policy and will implement in both call-in and determining planning applications.”

It went on to say that it showed schemes contrary to Local Plan policy and national planning policy should expect to be refused.

It said: “Impact on an existing centre is a critical matter and has to take into account the commercial strength of that centre. Blanket percentage impact tests are not correct and in this case an impact of 6.4% was found to be harmful enough to justify refusal of planning permission.

“At Cribbs the adverse impact upon a planned new investment in Bristol City Centre was found to be harmful to town centre first policy and justify refusal of planning permission.

“The viability ‘evidence’ presented at the public inquiry was explicitly not taken into account by the SoS because it had not been made available for testing by other parties which was procedurally unfair. This is highly relevant to Luton where the council are withholding the viability submissions made by 2020.

“This decision comes at a time of market stress for retail generally and town centres in particular. The SoS is clearly signalling his support for the town centre first policy of national policy and in Local Plans – all of which applies to Newlands and Luton. This is a common approach to both the Conservative and Labour parties.”

The statement added: “Out of town retail schemes that are still being proposed over the country will now need to be reassessed in the light of this decision. Luton Borough Council will be obliged to take this SoS decision into account in their officers’ recommendation and members’ decision.”