Controversial plans for a new Tesco store in Birmingham have been approved amid angry scenes and allegation of intimidation and bullying.
Just three weeks after rejecting plans for the store in St Mary’s Row, Moseley, the council’s planning committee overturned that decision on the chairman’s casting vote.
Residents who had battled against the plans were left furious as they saw their campaign defeated and members of the planning committee were outraged at what they saw as attempts to rail-road them into approving the scheme.
Those intent on refusal had already been warned by a lawyer acting for developer Exmax that they could be reported to the Standards Board for maladministration and even be financially liable for the council’s legal costs if the plan was refused.
Committee chairman Peter Douglas Osborn said: “The undisguised threats made by the developer’s legal counsel that councillors who disagree with them will be personally liable for damages was both inappropriate and misleading.
“I will stand up in a court of law to defend this committee from any charge it has acted unreasonably.”
As the application was discussed, council planning, highways and legal officials, backed by the assistant director of planning Waheed Nazir, told the committee they had no objective reason to refuse Tesco. They had even sought the advice of a top barrister, who advised there were no planning grounds to refuse.
Coun Keith Linnecor (Lab Oscott) stormed: “What’s the point of us being here if you are going to ask a QC to tell us what to think?
“I am not going to be swayed by the bullying and intimidation from the developer.”
And committee vice-chairwoman Paula Smith (Lib Dem Hall Green) added: “We have just been told we have no other way out. I thought we were supposed to make the decision.”
Opponents claimed that the Tesco store and health centre would leave the area grid- locked, lacked sufficient parking and would leave Moseley a ghost town, but planning officers said there was no evidence to support the claims and the plan should be approved.
Coun Len Clark (Con Quinton) said that the decision had to be made on planning grounds, not popularity.
He added: “We have to make difficult decisions and ones which are not always popular. If we do not approve this, it will go to appeal, the council will lose, it will cost the taxpayers a lot of money and we will end up with a development which is worse.”
Six Conservative councillors and one Labour member voted in favour, while three Labour and four Liberal Democrats were against and the chairman’s casting vote was used to pass the application.
Speaking after Coun David Willis (Lib Dem South Yardley), who voted against the plans, said: “I am so angry, what happened in there amounted to blackmail.”
Coun Emily Cox (Lib Dem Moseley and Kings Heath), who represented the anti-Tesco campaigners, concluded: “It is a disgraceful day for democracy. I am incandescent with rage.