ARA/SAVE letter sent to Councillor James Friend – Leader of Mole Valley District Council
16 Woodfield Lane,
Save Ashtead’s Village Environment
17th December 2010
Dear Councillor Friend,
Car Parking In Ashtead – The Planning Condition
There has been widespread local disappointment at the Inspector’s decision to allow Tesco’s appeal for its second planning application following the Public Inquiry. The condition set in relation to parking provision is however critical to its implementation and has placed the onus upon Mole Valley to consider possible options which might enable it to be met and subsequently to decide what if any action might be appropriate.
In this regard we were pleased to note the comments you made to The Council and the stress placed upon taking account of the views of local residents.
This subject has continued to be of great local interest and has given rise to some confusion and uncertainty. We therefore concluded that it would be of value to the Council in considering its actions and general stance to have evidence of current public opinion upon:
- the provision of car parking in the Village centre and
- whether in principle the development of a smaller supermarket on the site could be acceptable.
Opinions have therefore been sought by means of a brief questionnaire, jointly sponsored by ARA and SAVE. It was distributed to all households in Ashtead and was made available in local shops and through both our websites. Responses were accepted from residents and regular visitors to Ashtead, including those working in the Village and APMH users.
We followed ARA’s consistent policy of not seeking comment upon the applicant or its actions, as such opinions have not been pertinent to the planning process and could obscure the underlying practical issues. We are also aware that the competition test recommended by the Competition Commission has yet to be implemented. Given the revised circumstances however, following the completion of the planning process, it may be helpful to note that there is substantial anecdotal evidence that Tesco’s actions are generally not highly regarded locally. This appears to be a consequence of a mix of factors, including its existing large local presence, the aggressive and uncompromising approach it has adopted and its unresponsiveness to concerns raised about the operation of its Craddocks Parade store.
Our goal was to focus attention upon the current commercial and practical realities. We consequently did not seek to revisit topics previously covered, upon which we consider that there is ample existing evidence available to the Council of local opinion generally, including submissions during the planning process.
The results are detailed on the attached sheet.
We received a total of 2,252 responses, most of which were electronic, via a web-based application. Paper questionnaires were also accepted and input manually by a small team of Association Committee members.
Whilst we were pleased by level of response received, which we believe gives both clear and substantial indication of current local opinion, the number of respondents could have been substantially larger had we allowed a longer period for responses to be submitted. We wished to ensure that the results were available to you before the Christmas holiday period and therefore allowed only a brief period (c2 weeks) from initial delivery. In addition, whilst we were prepared to accept individual responses, it became apparent that a significant number of responses were on behalf of households. We believe that both these factors reinforce the weight which can reasonably be given to these results.
Questions 1-5 – Parking Provision
The results for all questions relating to parking provision are very clear. Opinions were close to unanimous.
This indicates an overwhelming wish to maintain the current mix of parking provision in the Village and to safeguard the interests of all current users of the APMH car park.
It also reinforces the view that:
- there is a clear need for long stay parking sited in the Village centre to cater for a variety of needs including hall users, visitors and businesses and
- there is little if any scope for an increase in on-street parking
Questions 6 and 7 – Additional Parking Provision
We are not aware of any site or sites where 74 long stay parking spaces could currently be relocated in Ashtead, although we understand that Mole Valley is in the process of undertaking detailed research.
We therefore sought views upon alternative approaches which could be considered.
The clear majority would not support actions by Mole Valley to buy or lease land for this purpose (78%) nor for Mole Valley to encourage Tesco or another landowner to provide the space (76%).
In this regard we are aware of concerns about the possibility of further proposals to convert land currently used for residential purposes for use as additional parking.
These questions involved a degree of complexity and comments received suggest that this resulted in some misunderstanding arising by some respondents. In retrospect we believe that the presentation of these questions was sub-optimal and that these responses should be viewed with some caution. The level of support for action (18% and 20% respectively) is likely to be lower than indicated. It is consequently suggested that further research would be highly desirable before these results are used to support or drive any action.
We understand that prior to the Public Inquiry consideration had been given to the possibility of relocating some or all of the current long stay parking provision outside Ashtead. We are not aware what if any conclusion was reached at that time but to cover the possibility that this suggestion may be made again, we sought opinions.
89% opposed this possible action.
Questions 9 and 10
We are conscious that Tesco owns the site at 53-57, The Street and that if the long stay parking condition is not met for a store with 750 sq. metres of retail floor space, alternative proposals could be made, subject to a fresh planning application.
We therefore sought “in principle” views upon alternative proposals which could be made but avoided specific reference to size or any other features of any subsequent proposal.
67% agreed that “a smaller store could be acceptable” but 78% supported the proposition that “any new proposal should be restricted to a convenience store”.
These results are consistent with the view we expressed during the planning process and suggest that a smaller store could offer a “win-win” outcome, facilitating a range of improvements to amenities, complementing existing traders’ activities and providing a more sustainable solution.
We consider that the results obtained provide a clear indication of current local opinion upon key issues. In the event that Tesco or any other applicant were to approach the Council with regard to any alternative proposal, we therefore consider that these responses provide a guide to actions which would conform with residents’ preferences.
In this regard we note that in “Decentralisation and The Localism Bill: an essential guide”, under the heading “Neighbourhood plans” it states that “The Bill will radically reform the planning system to give local people new rights to shape the development of the communities in which they live.” Whilst we appreciate that the content of the Bill may be subject to change and subsequent interpretation, we consider that the guiding principle outlined above is highly pertinent to the issues covered by this letter and entirely supports the approach you have hitherto taken of wishing to respect the views and wishes of the local community.
Paul Le Versha
Ashtead Residents’ Association
Gillian Russell (Miss)
(Save Ashtead’s Village Environment)
cc Cllr M. Cooksey
Cllr D. Howell
Mr D. MephamTweet