Response to Sainsbury’s 2nd Planning Application

The Knowle Society has responded to the second planning application submitted by Sainsburys to redevelop the Forest Court shopping precinct in Dorridge; the text of that response follows:

G. Palmer, Dip.TP, MRTPI
Head of Design and Development
PO Box 11652
Council Offices
Solihull
B91 9YA

Dear Mr Palmer,

SAINSBURY PLANNING APPLICATION, DORRIDGE (2011/1107)

The Society recognises the need to redevelop Forest Court in Dorridge, in the process improving facilities for shopping for inhabitants of the village. This is particularly so as most of the original traders have understandably left since the original plans were announced.

We recognise the modifications made to the previous application, most of which are positive. The developers have also responded to some extent to our concerns over the routing of the delivery vehicles. We are grateful for that. We see the potential benefits to Dorridge of a modest sized food store as an anchor for the retail offering. Despite the reduction in size the current proposal is still far in excess of what is needed to provide a local store for Dorridge residents. We have great concerns that the size of the proposed development is still so large that it will have a significant impact on Knowle and the amenity of its inhabitants. The specific issues that we feel will impact on Knowle are detailed below.

The size of the proposed supermarket

The point we wish to emphasise about the size of the planned store is its size which is the key factor which will drive the requirements for the volume and frequency of deliveries and which will provide the attractiveness of the store to shoppers from outside Dorridge, resulting in yet more traffic much of which will pass through Knowle.

The Design & Access Statement (p20) gives the gross external area of the store (excluding the proposed independent retail units and the car parking which is on the upper storey) as 5,741sqm. While this does include the service yard it indicates the major size of the supermarket building. The net sales area is given as 1,812 sq m.

The size of the whole development means that if this site (Gross external area 7,343 sq m.) were being identified for development by the Council it would have to be assessed for its impact on existing centres (PPS4, [Planning for Sustainable Economic Growth] Policy EC14). While it is to some extent replacement of previous retail offerings, the proposed development is very different in scale and type and it is our contention that this development will adversely affect the vitality and resilience of Knowle.

PPS4 defines Supermarkets as: ‘Self-service stores selling mainly food, with a trading floorspace less than 2,500 square metres, often with car parking.’ (PPS4 Annex B p27) The previous application (2009/1746 Planning and retail statement) identified the sizes of comparable stores in the area:-

Morrisons, Solihull – 2,180 sq m; Sainsbury, Solihull – 1,990 sq m both only slightly larger than the current proposal, both described as ‘medium size format’ stores and both clearly town centre stores, not the size that would be appropriate for Dorridge.

The whole of Knowle (described in the UDP (8.5.1) as a ‘local centre’) is recorded as having 2,385 sq m convenience floor space. PPS4 describes ‘Local centres include a range of small shops of a local nature, serving a small catchment. Typically, local centres might include, amongst other shops, a small supermarket, a newsagent, a sub-post office and a pharmacy. Other facilities could include a hot-food takeaway and launderette.’ (PPS4 Annex B)

Dorridge is not and cannot be considered as anything more than a ‘local centre’ and arguably is not even this. The Solihull Retail, Leisure and Offices Study carried out by DTZ for SMBC in 2009 didn’t even recognise Dorridge as a significant retail centre. The introduction of such a large store into Dorridge is therefore clearly out of scale. The application gives the true reason for the size of the store in the D&A Statement p17 when it says that the sales area is ‘the minimum necessary to make the proposal financially viable’ in other words, in order to make enough profit for Sainsbury. This is a very poor reason to inflict this development on the area. A more realistic proposal would be less expensive to develop and therefore more sustainable.

The proposal should be assessed in the light of the whole of PPS4, but particularly EC15 and EC16 and specifically EC 16.1e. Our contention is that the proposed store is so large that it fails to pass this test.

The proposed development will actually reduce the shopping opportunities in Dorridge. The plan includes six small retail units and two kiosks to replace the 20 existing retail units. This will adversely affect the nature of the centre of Dorridge, converting it into a place where one retailer will monopolise, while the variety and local nature of the existing offerings will be lost, to the detriment of local shoppers.

The impact on traffic flows and the environment

One of the main justifications for a store of the proposed size is the alleged ‘leakage’ of retail expenditure from the Hockley Heath, Dorridge and Knowle areas and the assertion that the planned store would very largely eliminate this. No measure has been given of the retail expenditure that is expected from shoppers living outside these areas and coming to Dorridge in place of shopping at other sites. Shoppers do have personal preferences for the stores they use, supported by the stores’ ‘loyalty schemes’. Sainsbury shoppers from some distance outside the area would therefore travel to Dorridge to use the new store. This would be particularly so for those who currently use the Poplar Way store in Solihull. The proposed store in Dorridge would be much more convenient for these shoppers, with its dedicated parking away from the congested Solihull Town centre, however in doing so they would undoubtedly increase congestion in Knowle & Dorridge.

On the other hand, traffic flows of shoppers currently leaving the study area to shop at the existing supermarkets are diffuse, leaving from a multitude of locations and taking a variety of routes to a number of different locations. In contrast, the traffic flows of shoppers going to the proposed store from within and without the immediate area will be focussed onto a very small number of roads, all concentrated on the proposed site. In particular, Station Road will take the major increase in traffic flows. This will have a significant effect on the Station Road/Grove Road/Widney Road junction, with most traffic from Bentley Heath and Knowle passing around the roundabout which is forecast to be operating at close to capacity.

Delivery vehicles

The impact of delivery/service vehicles on the road network and traffic flows is notably completely absent from the Transport Assessment. The only document that mentions them is the Service Yard Management Plan. This is a major omission as the impact of heavy goods vehicles, especially full size articulated vehicles, is much greater than that of light vehicles.

We recognise that the intended route for Sainsbury delivery vehicles would avoid Knowle High Street, for which we are grateful. However they will then travel along Station Road to Dorridge, passing through the very tight roundabout at the Station Road/Grove Road/Widney Road junction, which will be under great pressure. Observation of the very few large HGVs that currently use this roundabout will readily identify the problems they have negotiating it.

As is well known, most students at Arden School walk to and from school. The great majority of them walk along Station Road which is very narrow for a main road and has particularly narrow pavements, especially on its southern side, resulting in a great risk of students spilling out onto the roadway. This significant increase in heavy vehicles and shopper traffic traversing the narrow Station Road at the time it is in use by students is a clear hazard which must be avoided or, at the very least, greatly mitigated.

If permission were granted for this development we would request a Condition that the timings of delivery vehicles would avoid the start and finish of the school days at both Arden Academy and the Dorridge schools. A similar condition should be applied on Sunday mornings due to the congregation at St George & St Teresa’s Church parking on Station Rd.
We note that permission is sought for deliveries to be made between 05:00 and 23:00. This is a completely excessive period in a residential area, with the lorries travelling along Station Rd. possibly even before and after these times, which are when the service yard would be open. If permission were granted for this development we would request a Condition that the Service Yard should only be open between 08:00 and 21:00 during weekdays and 09:00 and 16:00 on Sundays and Bank Holidays,

Impact on the Knowle Conservation Area

The expectation of the developers is for 9 main deliveries per day (including Saturday and Sunday) from Sainsbury’s depots plus an unknown number of ad-hoc deliveries. Each of these will involve a return journey through parts of Knowle, resulting in some 18+ trips through the village. Part of the route of these lorries would be through the Conservation Area on Station Road. Much of the increased shoppers’ traffic would also pass through this Area on both the High Street and Station Road. The application has taken no account of the impact of the increased traffic on the (whole of the) Knowle Conservation Area and therefore should fail under the terms of PPS5, Policy HE6.

All these factors point to a real need to eliminate or at least drastically reduce the impact on Knowle of the additional traffic caused by any major development, such as that proposed, even if that means a radical reduction in the size of the development.

While the current plans for delivery vehicles avoid Knowle High Street, they still involve significant disturbance and hazard to the residents of Station Road and to pupils of Arden Academy and Dorridge Schools. The best option for mitigation of these problems is for all delivery vehicles to travel from Junction 4 of the M42, down the Stratford Road and into Dorridge from Hockley Heath. This would be a simpler and shorter route for the delivery vehicles and would avoid them passing through Balsall Common and Chadwick End. The Stratford Road is suitable for such vehicles and they would have minimal impact on Hockley Heath and Dorridge. We understand the reason given for not favouring this option is the height of the railway bridge at Dorridge. However this has a reasonable 4 metre height limit which would be sufficient for vehicles which met the European standard for HGVs and which could be used for all deliveries. While this might cause some inconvenience for Sainsbury in that they might have to use slightly smaller vehicles, we do not see why all the inconvenience (and danger) should be imposed on Knowle and residents of Station Road. If the problems for Sainsbury in using such smaller vehicles are said to be too great, then the clearance under the railway bridge should be increased at their cost.

We reiterate that we see the need to improve Forest Court and a modest supermarket there might well be an acceptable option. However the total impact of the current proposal on Knowle and its surroundings would be such that it cannot possibly be allowed to go ahead as currently planned and we therefore formally object to the planning application.

Yours sincerely,

Leighton Jones
On behalf of The Knowle Society
Cc Ward Councillors.