This article was published in 2008, in Newsletter 77.
As many people may be aware, there has been a large campaign against plans by Tesco to open a fourteenth Tesco-owned store in Cambridge on Mill Road. Those objections have been focussed on grounds of viability and vitality of local shops. Obviously that issue is not of relevance to the Campaign and we take no view on that.
However, upon our scrutiny of the planning applications, it quickly emerged that the plans for delivery to the store were totally inadequate, and would exacerbate an already problematic safety situation in Mill Road. The Committee submitted an objection and a representative of the Campaign spoke at the packed public meeting of the East Area Committee on 6th March, to great applause.
The store is that previously owned by Wilco, who we understand used small vans to deliver non-perishable goods to the back of the site. We understand that there were only a small number of deliveries per week. By contrast, Tesco’s planning application for an extension were submitted to facilitate a store which would have 30 lorry deliveries per week, taking up to 30 minutes at a time.
At the East Area Committee meeting, the head planner from the City Council stated his view that 40-45 minutes was more likely. And another objector revealed research from monitoring of the Cherry Hinton Tesco Express store, which suggested that some 45 deliveries per week was more likely.
The lease on the site is currently owned by Tesco, and it previously had planning permission for operation as a shop. Three applications were submitted, the key one being to increase by 36% the size of the premises. (The other two were for a sign and an ATM.)
A photo gallery of the area can be found at our photomap.
Mill Road is a heavily congested area, as most members will be aware. The two halves of Mill Road are 3rd and 4th on the County Council’s accident cluster sites list. As a result, Mill Road is now second highest in the County Council’s ‘October List’ of 185 areas needing safety attention. The collision map for the area demonstrates how most collisions are already taking place at junctions.
Mill Road is a busy and relatively narrow shopping street, and existing levels of delivery vehicles already cause congestion, inconvenience and danger. More large delivery vehicles would make things even worse. Anyone cycling in the area will be familiar with the existing problems.
Tesco originally planned to have deliveries from the pavement at the front. This would block the public highway and cause danger, and so this proposal was rightly thrown out by officers.
Tesco’s formal application proposed deliveries to the back of the store from Sedgwick Street. But this would require lorries going through that street, which is narrow with half-pavement parking on both sides. This is clearly totally impractical. The only other way for their lorries to reach the delivery area would be to have such lorries reversing into what is a one-way street. Clearly this too would objectively cause a lot of disruption and present a considerable safety hazard for people cycling and walking.
The officer report therefore acknowledged that the only remaining option was for unloading on Mill Road itself. This, our Formal Objection made clear, would be unacceptable on safety grounds (especially given the existing high collision rate). It would obviously also worsen the existing traffic congestion in the area.
Amazingly, the officer report stated that the store should receive approval despite this obviously unacceptable delivery situation. Councillors took notice of common sense and threw out the plans unanimously.
We also objected that the cycle parking proposed was not in accordance with the Cycle Parking Standards, a requirement clearly stated in the Local Plan. We received a revised drawing, at late notice just a few days before the meeting (many months after the submission of the planning application) that showed revised details of the cycle parking which meet the mandatory requirements of the Standards Local Plan.
What happens next?
At the time of writing it is not clear what Tesco’s next moves will be. They will find it hard to operate a store without having their lorries blocking Mill Road several times a day. This was the key aspect of our objection and one of two key aspects for refusal officially cited by councillors in their rejection of the Planning Application.
Tesco may choose to appeal the applications. But in our view there is no practicable way to service this particular site with the sort of multiple daily deliveries that a food store 10m2 smaller than a supermarket would require.
Tesco claim to listen to local communities. We hope they will do so and withdraw their plans. Perhaps at the same time, they could also fix the problems that remain around their Newmarket Road store, where chicanes cause real inconvenience to cyclists with shopping bags.