Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tesco Values: the role of the Highways Agency in the Hattersley Tesco

Many thanks to NMB reader and occasional contributor kirtlegreen for this analysis of the role of the Highways Agency in relation to the Hattersley Tesco:

The Highways Agency are the Statutory Authority for trunk roads in the UK, so where a retail application might impact upon the national network, it is incumbent upon them to form and take a position as a key Statutory Consultee. In this role the Highways Agency duly placed a holding Objection on the Hattersley Tesco Extra application around May of last year, with the proposed store being adjacent to the highly congested M67 roundabout. This hold was pending closer examination of the matter and could, I believe, have been maintained indefinitely until the Agency were fully satisfied that the proposal would have no adverse impact on the trunk route East and West of the location (M67/A57/A628).

Had the Highways Agency Holding Objection been maintained, firstly, it would have been hard for Tameside to even hear the application let alone legally pass it. It would certainly have established the matter as one of national importance for the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, Eric Pickles. Whilst accepting there are numerous other issues with this store, I would venture to suggest therefore that their powers made the Highways Agency the “key or decisive witness” and their actions as a public body particularly worthy of scrutiny.

The Highways Agency in their role as statutory consultee employed Halcrow as consultants to review the evidence supplied by Waterman Boreham on behalf of the applicant, CTP (for Tesco). The evidence Halcrow looked at was based on work commissioned by Tameside Council (a retail study by White Young & Green) with projections employed - rather than facts - by Waterman Boreham to make traffic behaviour assumptions. In this rather circular way (considering the multiple involvement of Tameside Council) all the various transport consultants involved - Waterman Boreham, Halcrow and ultimately the Agency - reached the same very surprising conclusion.

Far from being the obvious traffic nightmare there would be a net reduction in trips at the M67 corridor as a result of the application for a Tesco at Hattersley! The more than dubious case, made on the basis of some hypotheses, was that reduction of outward journeys from Hattersley would offset any increase of inward traffic resulting in a benign outcome for the M67 corridor. A particular test of the M67 roundabout in this scenario was, as I have read it, thus considered an unnecessary further step.

This happens to be completely the opposite of what everyone could possibly expect to be the case, as witnessed by letters in the press and objections sent to the Planning Authority and the Secretary of State, who all see things in a far less favourable light. The general consensus in this area is that these findings simply cannot be right and a very sizeable consensus it is too, with over 2,500 people. Everyone apart from these traffic agencies/consultants seem to prefer the evidence of their own eyes, rather than guesswork and extrapolations within a retail study. They seem to think that a store with over 525 parking places in a road system operating at full capacity does not make any sense in planning or any other terms you care to think of. They appear to feel - with it must be said some considerable logic - that they will suffer adversely in many ways, with respect to falling property values, and a very considerable deterioration of quality of life, due to continual slow moving traffic in the area, i.e. gridlock. This is to the extent that people are talking about upping sticks and moving away. However once the Highways Agency, as representative of the Secretary of State, adopted the position given by Halcrow, the traffic implications of the Hattersley Tesco were suddenly going to be virtually impossible to challenge; the influence of the Highways Agency, whether contrary to obvious sense or not, being decisive in these considerations.

The issue therefore seems to be whether the Highways Agency are expected to follow some safe pattern of assessment, and whether that assessment is fully independent, complete and cannot be connected with the applicant in any way and is thus shown to be fundamentally sound - or not. Also, if the Agency has skimped the job -  for whatever reason - by not conducting their own survey, or in view of the congestion have conducted only a low level study, then how are the interests of the public within their remit protected?

Either we live in a despotic state, where the the public fund a planning process which is simply a facade, or the Highways Agency as Statutory Consultee to the process for its transport element should be able and willing to indicate adherence to a clear and satisfactory set of assessment guidelines, which are not ad hoc but firmly applicable in all cases. It would seem extraordinary if such guidelines do not exist for them and that in this case it cannot be demonstrated minutely, with full documentation, to show how they have been followed. The public, through representatives or themselves, would seem to have a clear right to scrutinise and test this process to satisfy themselves, particularly where such doubt exists as to the conclusions - as in this case.

There therefore remain questions to be answered, of perhaps both local and national importance here, regarding the transparency of the Highways Agency as a public body. Perhaps answering those questions will help in this particular matter?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Second Siege crossing protest a failure - as their own video demonstrates!

We've yet to write a proper feature on the second pedestrian crossing protest by the Longdendale Siege Committee, although one is in the works along with a video, but in the meantime we thought we'd reverse-engineer their own propaganda. The above video is from the MEN's YouTube page, and is linked to from Siege's website. The only problem is, it clearly illustrates the failure of their protest: traffic is not even queuing back from the lights at the junction of the A628 & A57 in the near-distance for any significant length of time...

'Medieval Dramatists' Longdendale Siege appear on Andy Crane's Radio show - bring back Edd the Duck

Now we're sure there are some readers out there that have fond memories of the BBC's Andy Crane in his days in the BBC's broom cupboard with his sidekick hand puppet Edd the Duck. But after last Monday's lunchtime show, we really wished he was still presenting the junction slots on Children's BBC.

A large part of his show was dedicated to discussing that morning's protest by Longdendale Siege, and Brian Butler from Siege was awarded a slot to call for the bypass. Along the way, we also had a contribution from someone called Pat who lives in Broadbottom, who pointed out that Siege have nothing to say about the Hattersley Tesco and pointed out the lack of local consultation about the plans for the store. Whilst Pat intimated she supported the Bypass, it's clear that her main concern, like everyone who lives in and around the area, is traffic - and she doesn't see how the construction of the Tesco is going to help.

Andy Crane himself revealed his clear bias on this issue by wittering on and on about how bad the traffic was, although it was interesting how he couldn't get the BBC traffic expert to agree that it was one of the worst places in Greater Manchester for traffic hold ups. We're informed that Crane lives in Charlesworth.

Unlike with other audio presentations on this blog, we just cannot be bothered transcribing the key bits - an mp3 of the 'highlights' appears below.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Campaign for Better Transport can't see the wood for the trees

In his latest blog over at the Campaign for Better Transport website, Roads and Climate Change campaigner Richard George makes a convincing case for why Tameside MBC should just give up the fight for any kind of Bypass through the Longdendale Valley. Tameside's silence over recent weeks was this week exposed as not the result of being stunned by the government's cutting of the scheme, but because they are seeking money from elsewhere to fund the road.

But he's missing the point, and big time. Perhaps it's because he's detached from the situation on the ground, but the reason the campaign for a Bypass now has new impetus is because of the issue that won't go away: the issue that has been tracked by this blog for nearly 3 years now, and the issue that most anti-Bypass campaigners are hiding from - Tesco, and their now government approved megastore at Hattersley.

So it's hardly surprising that Tameside carry on with their zombie Bypass - the facts on the ground are changing the discourse. We're aware that it's probably not the remit of the CFBT to campaign against Tesco, but unless a serious challenge is posed to the government's decision to allow Tesco to build this store - and soon - any words against this Bypass will start to ring more and more hollow and lack credibility.

Rant over.

UPDATE: Richard George has replied to this blog, along with other contributors - please see the comments.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Unelected and unrepresentative Lord Pendry speaks out on the bypass cut

Despite Jonathan Reynolds' intervention the other day on the Bypass issue, there has been little noise from Tameside's politicians about the cutting of government funding for the Bypass. The motives for this remain a matter of conjecture, but we're betting that if there is a chance to use other government funding streams to bring about Bypass 2.0, then they don't particularly want to put the government's nose out of joint.

So in the meantime we have Lord Pendry, the former Stalybridge and Hyde MP, being wheeled out to moan and groan. How convenient - someone whose political stature cannot be affected by the whole affair, since he is unelected and can't be toppled.

Pendry gave an interview to the Glossop Chronic's pro-bypass journalist David Jones this week, and a little potted history of his failure to get government ministers of all stripes to build a road over the years.

It's also an example of some of the most contrarian and idiotic reasoning you'll find anywhere. Pendry describes the visit of Fred Mulley, the Labour Minister of Transport between 1974-75, someone who apparently doubted the attractiveness of Longdendale, but agreed with Pendry having stayed there for the weekend after Pendry invited him. Pendry finds it so attractive that he wanted to build another road through it.

Mulley apparently wouldn't be seen driving a car during his tenure as Transport Minister, perhaps to counter any accusations he favoured the road lobby. Perhaps the reason the Longdendale Bypass was never granted during his tenure was because he realised how 'attractive' it was. Nevertheless, he did end up having a road named after him.

We then get another example of Pendry's failure to convince a Minister with the example of Glenda Jackson being almost flattened by a lorry crossing Manchester Road in Tinsle during her tenure as Transport Minister. This is perhaps why the pedestrian crossing later appeared on said road!

But surely the best line here is Pendry's quote about Tesco: “Traffic has increased and it will get even worse in this area when Tesco open their supermarket in Hattersley.” So there we are, there is at least one politician who's prepared to admit Tesco will make things a whole lot worse.

Read the full Pendry interview after the read more link below.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Jonathan Reynolds speaks about Tesco - at last - and calls traffic concerns a 'Red Herring'

As part of all the mewling and puking from the roads lobby last week surrounding the government decision to cut the Mottram Bypass, the Stalybridge and Hyde MP, Jonathan Reynolds, saw an opportunity to burnish his pro-bypass credentials with his disillusioned electorate. He issued a press release and appeared on BBC Radio Manchester's 'Beswick at Breakfast' show last Thursday.

Now we've been lambasting Reynolds over his failure to address the concerns of his electorate regarding the Hattersley Tesco Extra for a while now. For months now, there has been a perfect silence about the issue from him, even through the General Election campaign. But his appearance on Alan Beswick's show left him vulnerable to being asked any question, and the astute Beswick took the opportunity to corner him on Tesco.

You can listen to the segment of the show and read a full transcript of the interview after the 'read more' link below. But what interests us are Reynolds' comments about Tesco, and these need to be highlighted here.

Firstly, Reynolds admits that the store "will have an impact on traffic". But later, he seeks to dilute this admission, by saying that "there won't be that different a change to the traffic flows ... in the area". It seems to us that he can't have it both ways. As Beswick implies, Tesco have chosen this site because of the proximity to the motorway and trunk road network, in order to maximise access and thereby profit. As we've always stated, the plan for the store anticipated the Bypass, but with the Bypass now on hold for an indeterminate length of time, it will now seek to precipitate it. All Reynolds can do is to state that the traffic problems of the A628/A57/M67 exist in a bubble, and that development in Tameside cannot make any difference. Isn't it funny that Roy Oldham's refrain was always that 'development in Glossop and High Peak' was responsible for increased traffic on this road? Not Tameside though, just Glossop and High Peak.

Secondly, Reynolds seeks to differentiate the store from the Bypass by stating that the Tesco is part of the 'regeneration' of Hattersley. 'Regeneration' in this context is code for the furtherance of the goals of sectors of private capital over social considerations. So the maintenance of existing housing can only be brought about by awarding massive concessions to a private company. We've seen another example of this today with the revelation that Tesco are secretly funding public infrastructure in Salford in return for being given the go-ahead on massive planning projects.

Thirdly, Reynolds seeks to downplay the scale of the Tesco store. The 525 car parking spaces go unmentioned, and Reynolds says, ridiculously, "There's a lot of controversy as to whether it would be described as a Tesco Extra - the size of the site is not comparable to some of the Tesco Extras we have seen in other parts of the country". There is no controversy - the artists impression of the store shows quite plainly the Tesco Extra logo emblazoned upon it! In addition, the Tesco Extra is the largest type of store that Tesco construct - at 95,000 square feet, the Hattersley store will be only 15% smaller than the store at Portwood in Stockport.

But Reynolds can afford to be blase - because Tesco seem to have won. With that twat Eric Pickles ignoring this issue, it seems the group set up to oppose the store plan have surrendered (at least if the disappearance of their website is anything to go by). With Siege upping their profile again, it seems that the future belongs to Tesco, if not the responsibility for the traffic, and Tameside MBC's silence regarding the road funding announcement is ominous: perhaps Tesco have thrown some money at reviving Bypass 2.0 behind the scenes?

Have the pro-bypass lobby snatched victory from the jaws of defeat? Unfortunately, it now seems that only time will tell.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

STOP PRESS: Government approves Hattersley Tesco

According to a press release issued by Tameside MBC today, the Government Office of the North West have 'no objection' to the plan for a Tesco Extra at Hattersley. To say that this announcement eclipses the quiet death of the Bypass scheme the other day would be something of an understatement.

We'll have more news and opinion as it becomes available.