Why I hope Hebden Royd Town Council will advise against the Mytholm Works planning application

Tomorrow, 31st October, Hebden Royd Town Council will consider the planning application for a supermarket, hotel, parking and micro-hydro turbine on the Mytholm Works site. The meeting, which starts at 7.30pm in Hebden Royd Town Hall,  will decide how to advise Calderdale Council to deal with the planning application – whether to accept it or refuse it.

At 7.15pm there will be a Surgery – an opportunity for the public to view the planning applications, and to consult with Hebden Royd Town Councillors about them.

I really hope Hebden Royd Town Councillors will:

  • advise Calderdale Council to refuse planning permission for a supermarket and hotel on the site, because the development fails to satisfy many of the planning requirements of both Calderdale Council and the NPPF
  • support the nomination of the Mytholm Works site as a community asset – in line with the Incredible Edible Calderdale policy

A supermarket and hotel are not acceptable uses of the site

The planning consultant states that the proposed development would create as many jobs as the allocated types of employment for the site. But his job creation figures appear unrealistic and unsupported by facts.

For these, and other reasons noted below, I think that a supermarket and hotel are not acceptable uses of the site, particularly given that it’s an allocated employment site for offices, light industry, general industry and warehouses.

Inflated job claims for proposed development

The planning consultant has said that proposed supermarket and hotel would create around 100 jobs. I’ve asked him for the information source that he’s based this estimate on, and although he told me he’d email it to me, he hasn’t.

So I’ve done some fact finding of my own. On the basis of the facts I’ve established, it seems likely that the proposed development would create around 31 full time jobs and 41 part time jobs. 72 in total. My estimate is based on the following facts and informed guesstimates.

Supermarket staff

Hebden Bridge Coop currently employs 38 staff.  The proposed supermarket is a bit bigger than the HB Coop, so I guessed it might employ 10 more staff – that makes 48 staff.

The 2009 Labour Force Survey from the Office of National Statistics established that 45% of retail jobs are full time and 55% part time.

Applying those percentages to 48 jobs gives 22 full time jobs and 26 part time jobs.

Hotel staff

A new 56 bed Travelodge hotel advertised for 24 employees to run the hotel – 1 Assistant Lodge Manager, 3 Reception staff,  5 Night duty staff, 15 Guestroom cleaners. Of these, only the first 4 look like full time jobs to me. Possibly the night duty staff are also full time. So to give the benefit of the doubt, say there are 9 full time staff and 15 part time staff.

Most jobs created by the proposed development would be low wage and unskilled 

The Hebden Royd Town Council Strategy & Review Committee is looking for ways to encourage the creation of apprenticeship schemes in order to upskill young people and prepare them for skilled employment.  The proposed supermarket and hotel development seems to me to undermine these aspirations for the town’s young people.

Supermarket and hotel jobs are mostly minimum wage and unskilled. Supermarkets deskill employees – compared to the all-round grocery shop employee, fruiterer and vegetable dealer, dairy staff, butcher and so on, most supermarket employees such as truck unloaders, shelf stackers and checkout assistants don’t get to develop skills or a general knowledge of retail trade.

Hebden Bridge young people need and deserve better jobs than these. We should be supporting developments that create skilled, well paid jobs.

Likely to cause job losses in existing businesses

This relates to Policy S2 – retail development – which requires that out-of-town developments “should have no serious effect on the vitality and viability of the town centre.”

On the evidence from developments in other towns, a successful edge-of-town supermarket would cause loss and decline of existing Hebden Bridge town centre retail businesses, and this would have a damaging knock-on effect on their local suppliers. Both of these processes would be likely to cause job losses.

The Association of Convenience Stores makes the point that the number of jobs that are likely to be lost if a planned edge of town supermarket development goes ahead includes:

“jobs ‘lost’ because existing businesses decide not to expand or to delay employment because of the development, as well as those jobs lost through redundancy”

The Association of Convenience Stores also advocates that planners need to consider employment effects over an 18 month period from a store opening, since this is the length of time it takes for the employment impacts to work themselves through.

There is no demonstrated need for the proposed supermarket

Policy S2 states that the need for out of town retail developments must be demonstrated. However, the Hebden Bridge Public Survey 2012 (commissioned by Setbray Properties and included among the planning application documents) shows that when asked what Hebden Bridge lacks, 40% of the public who were questioned said “nothing” and only 14% said “a supermarket”.

The proposed development runs counter to Calderdale MBC’s Incredible Edible Calderdale and Community Food Growing policy

Mytholm Works site is one of the few sites in the Upper Calder Valley that’s suitable for a substantial community-owned food growing development – one based on a market garden that combines intensive permaculture and aquaculture growing with a farm gate retail outlet for local food produce, an educational centre and horticulture apprenticeship programme, eco hotel and green tourist attraction. The site’s unique suitability derives from the fact that it’s sufficiently large, south facing, close to town and easily accessible by road.

This use of the site is in line with Calderdale Council’s policy, Incredible Edible Calderdale,  that draws on the Localism Act.

Calderdale Council Cabinet has accepted that:

  • the Council should continue to support community growing projects wherever possible and feasible
  • community growing opportunities should be reflected in the development of an Asset Register for Calderdale as required by the Localism Act 2011.

These are the two main elements of the alternative community growing proposal for Mytholm Works site. Nothing in the supermarket and hotel planning application meets these policy standards. Surely the fact that the supermarket and hotel planning application runs counter to this important Calderdale Council policy must weigh strongly against approving it.

The proposed development runs counter to NPPF para 17

The National Planning Policy Framework specifies as a Core Principle that planning should be a “creative exercise in finding ways to enhance and improve places where people live…supporting the transition to a low-carbon future…

The proposed supermarket and hotel development doesn’t meet these criteria. Rather than a creative exercise, it’s a tired, unimaginative response to the Mytholm Site and the needs of the town. Adding some eco-bling in the form of  micro-hydro electricity generation, doesn’t alter the fact that the proposed development is strictly “business as usual”, in its reliance on conventional, high carbon farming, transport, tourism, retail and building methods. These are incompatible with the legally-binding reductions on carbon emissions which the UK is committed to, and to Calderdale Council’s carbon budget as outlined in its Calderdale Energy Future strategy.

Supermarkets are notorious for the built-in waste in their supply chains – they reject between 25-40% of UK fruit and vegetable crops farmers supply to them – largely on cosmetic grounds.  (Source: Stuart, Tristram. “Food Waste Facts”, May 2011 .) This waste contributes hugely to carbon emissions- in the UK every 1 tonne of food waste is responsible for 4.5 tonnes of CO2 emissions. (WRAP (2008), The Food we Waste Executive Summary, (pg 3)).  10% of the greenhouse gas emissions from the West come from growing food that is never eaten, and supermarkets are among the most wasteful parts of the food industry.

Supermarkets are also notorious for destroying the livelihoods of UK farmers, by paying them uneconomically low prices for the food they supply.

A lot of the food that supermarkets sell is flown in from the global south, where its production has displaced food growing for local consumption, creating food shortages in the country of origin, as well as creating high carbon emissions through industrial farming methods and air transport to the UK.

Finally, supermarkets are implicated in the growing problem of obesity, since many of the foods they sell are processed, high-fat, high-sugar products.

In contrast to the proposed supermarket and hotel development, the proposed alternative community food growing, retail,educational and tourist project is a truly creative response to the need to find economically, environmentally and socially sustainable ways for the town to develop and to move to a low-carbon future.

It involves innovative application of the Community Right to Bid, established in the 2011 Localism Act.

It upscales agro-ecology methods, community food production and retail to a new level which starts to meet the long term needs of the whole community.

It provides a farm-gate market/retail outlet for local farmers and food producers.

Research carried out by the New Economics Foundation has shown that compared to supermarkets, markets create more and better jobs. For example, the New Economics Foundation’s study of Queens Market in Newham, London found that for every square metre of space the market occupies, it creates more than twice the number of jobs compared to a typical food supermarket.

Unlike the supermarket and hotel development, the proposed community food business would help meet aspirations for living wage, skilled jobs for Hebden’s young people, as well as providing opportunities for constructive outdoor play and activities for young families living near the site, and enhancing Hebden Bridge as a green tourist destination.

I give this example to show what a “creative exercise in finding ways to enhance and improve places where people live…supporting the transition to a low-carbon future…” might look like, and to make it clear that the supermarket and hotel planning application doesn’t meet this requirement.

The proposed development runs counter to NPPF para 20

This paragraph says that it’s necessary to plan proactively to meet the needs of businesses and support an economy fit for the 21st century.

The supermarket and hotel development proposal is rooted in an economic model that is already outdated – one that assumes an unlimited supply of fossil fuels, cheap energy and cheap food from a globalised supply chain.

By contrast, the alternative community food project faces the challenge of rising food prices and potential food shortages, by thinking long term about the greatest good of the greatest number of people, rather than about short term profit for developers. It offers a 25 -30 year vision, based on the  understanding that rising food prices will make it economic to return to arable and crop farming on thousands of acres of upland farmland that used to be farmed in this way, before cheap food made it uneconomic; and that these crops will need both an accessible farm-gate market outlet, and skilled growers to farm them.

It also addresses the new era of legally binding limits to carbon emissions and of expensive energy, by using low carbon food growing methods, low carbon building processes and materials, and very low food miles.

Because of the supermarket and hotel development’s failure to satisfy many of the planning requirements of both Calderdale Council and the NPPF, I hope Hebden Royd Town Council will advise Calderdale Council that it should refuse this planning  application.

Nominating Mytholm Works as a community asset

Robin Tuddenham, Calderdale Council’s Director of Communities, has said that it’s possible to nominate assets for the Community Assets Register now, even though Calderdale Council hasn’t yet worked out the process for registering community assets. Calderdale is aiming to send out community asset nomination forms by the end of this week.

There is a possibility of setting up an unincorporated community group in order to nominate the site as a community asset, with a view to being able exercise the Community Right to Bid if/when the land owners put the site on the market. (This Right is established by the Localism Act.)

The group’s aim would be to set up a community-owned, sustainable community food business that combines intensive permaculture and aquaculture food growing, a farm gate local food retail outlet, sustainable food education and training project and eco-tourism attraction, including an eco-hotel. The community group would work in cooperation with Incredible Edible Todmorden, who fully support the idea.

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