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Co-op fails in bid to stop Morrisons site
5:30am Friday 6th December 2013 in News
THE owners of a Co-op store in the town have failed in a bid to thwart a new Morrisons only 200 metres away, which is substantially built and set to open in February next year.
Though Morrisons have already spent £15m of a projected £21m building on the former Dorcan House office site, between Dorcan Way and Eldene Drive, Midcounties Co-operative Ltd, which owns the Co-op store at nearby Eldene, hoped to persuade a High Court judge to quash the grant of planning permission for the development.
They claimed that, in granting planning permission for the new superstore – intended to serve the main shopping needs of south-east Swindon – and three additional retail units, Swindon Council failed to apply national and local planning policies correctly.
But Mr Justice Hickinbottom, sitting in Bristol, ruled that the Co-op’s claims were not arguable, and refused them permission for a judicial review.
Rejecting multiple grounds of challenge, he said: “There is nothing arguably challengeable here. This is in reality a challenge to the merits of the conclusion of the officers, and thus the council, in the context of commercial competition between the claimant and Morrisons. But it is not arguable that the council’s approach to the Local Plan Policies, or the conclusion reached, was wrong or unlawful.”
The Co-op had actually attacked two separate grants of planning permission for the Morrisons store – one made last December, and a second one, largely identical, issued in July after it had first launched judicial review proceedings.
The judge said that the second planning application was made to address criticisms of the first raised by the Co-op, and so its challenge to the December permission was now “academic”.
The hearing was contested both by lawyers for the council and the supermarket’s development arm, and the judge said: “Morrisons have now bought the site, and have commenced construction, having spent over £15m of a total cost of £21m. The supermarket is due to open in February 2014. If and when it opens, it will provide 250 jobs in an area of higher than average unemployment.
“Given even those briefest of commercial and social facts, the resoluteness with which both the council and Morrisons oppose this claim to quash the two decisions to grant planning permission for the development is understandable.”
The judge said that the council’s planning officers’ report had properly dealt with the issues of need for the new supermarket, impact on the vitality and viability of other centres, including Swindon town centre and Eldene, and concluded that there were no “sequentially preferable” sites to house such a superstore.
He said: “These are matters of planning judgment; and the conclusions reached by the officers were, clearly, ones to which they were entitled to come.”
He also rejected a claim that the decision was based on a “fundamentally flawed” retail impact assessment.
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