Solihull Council warned over huge costs after rejecting Shirley regeneration scheme
Long-standing plans to regenerate Shirley town centre have been thrown out despite warnings the decision may cost more of taxpayers’ money.
The Parkgate scheme, which included £80 million plans for a new Asda superstore, shops and housing, was rejected by a majority vote at a Solihull Council planning committee meeting.
Objectors criticised the scheme’s size and use of parkland but it was ultimately refused on a lack of parking, which some members argued would put shoppers off visiting the town centre.
The first Parkgate scheme, a £100 million partnership project between developers Shirley Advance and the council itself, was approved by the planning committee and Government Office in 2006.
A 2008 public inquiry into compulsory purchase orders delayed the scheme’s start, and the recession meant permission for the development expired and a new, smaller-scale scheme was drawn up. But campaigners criticised the “unnecessary” use of three acres of green space in the revised scheme, including the removal of a historic hedgerow and a rare ring of oaks. Campaign group Keep Shirley Alive said most of the 1,000 residents it surveyed were against the scheme. Chairman Robert Cawte said: “The flats on the park are purely for profit. Residents use the park and enjoy it. This will not revive Shirley, it will do the opposite.”
Solihull Ratepayers’ Association spokesman Trevor Eames said the proposed car parking figures, including 500 basement car parking spaces for visitors were “seriously flawed” and “would deter shoppers from using Shirley”.
Solihull MP Lorely Burt also claimed the supermarket threatened to “suck the life” out of the town centre.
Coun Jim Ryan said the scheme’s planning history meant it should be approved with conditions, as he feared it would be taken to appeal at a cost to the taxpayer.
Chief planning officer Gary Palmer said the same methodology was used by officers considering the application as previously, adding: “The council could be liable to costs if challenged on appeal. I would be concerned that we would be able to produce the relevant evidence to convince an inspector.”
But the scheme was rejected with a majority of five over four.
Robert Birch, for Shirley Advance said the company was “bitterly disappointed” with the “irresponsible” decision.
He said: “The council’s own officers couldn’t have been any more categoric in their clear recommendation to approve the scheme; but the Liberal Democrat members chose to ignore that strong advice utterly and the hard facts of the case. They also demonstrated a lack of understanding of the officer’s report, the application itself and the extensive supporting information.
“We are meeting with our lawyers to consider our options. We may well appeal the decision and, if we do so, we will have a strong case for costs to be awarded against the council. Any such costs will ultimately and, in our view, unnecessarily be at the ratepayers’ expense. This was pointed out to the committee but those who voted against the scheme didn’t seem concerned.”