A public inquiry into the proposed Next Home and Garden store near Meadowhall has ended – but a decision is not due until the summer.
Closing speeches from barristers on behalf of Sheffield Council – defending its refusal of planning permission – and developer British Land were made at Sheffield Town Hall yesterday.
Planning Inspector David Wildsmith adjourned proceedings to consider the evidence and said he would take ‘several weeks’ to decide whether to allow British Land’s appeal.
In his closing speech on behalf of British Land, Christopher Katowski QC said: “A commendable scheme that should be welcomed has been delayed needlessly for too long.
“The evidence has demonstrated how ill-founded and weak the council’s case is.”
The council was defending its refusal on two grounds.
David Caulfield, council head of planning, said the scheme breached the council’s policy against further retail development near Meadowhall and also that another suitable site was available at St Mary’s Gate, on the edge of the city centre – currently home to a Staples office supplies store.
Mr Katowski said: “There is no evidence Next could fit a home and garden store at Staples.
“Apparently, the council expects Next to compromise their business model and do without key departments.”
Mr Katowski said the planning guidelines allowing the council to suggest more suitable alternative sites for developments are not supposed to force businesses to ‘compromise’ on their size.
He said: “The question is whether the alternative site is suitable for the proposed development, not whether the proposed development could be altered or reduced so that it can be made to fit.
“It’s not part of the test to force such ridiculous obligations on retailers.”
Mr Katowski repeated his earlier evidence that the council’s policy against expansion of retail at Meadowhall was based on regional planning policy which is no longer valid. He said the council’s own planning policies need updating.
Mr Katowski said the only ‘valid’ test was a general one about whether the benefits outweighed negative impact.
Barrister Andrew Fraser-Urquhart, for the council, said: “This is not a case where the council wants to force a retailer onto a site which is completely unacceptable.”
He said the proposal would be ‘in clear breach of policies which seek to restrict further expansion of Meadowhall’.
The council says it remains against expansion of retail at Meadowhall because of its impact on the viability of the city centre, although a specific objection about the issue was withdrawn .
Mr Caulfield said: “We still believe we have strong and reasonable grounds for refusal.”
He said whatever decision was made about Next plans for Vulcan Road, the separate Ikea application for land off nearby Sheffield Road, Carbrook, would be considered on its ‘own merits’.