Land Securities and The Evans Property Group announced last month that they want to add a multi-screen cinema, restaurants and cafes, and some new shops to the White Rose Centre in Morley, south Leeds, as well as expand the existing Debenhams and Primark stores there.
Councillors on Leeds City Council’s new strategic plans panel get their first chance to comment on the plans for the out-of-town centre at a meeting next week.
As the plans are at the pre-application stage (an outline application is expected before the New Year), no decisions will be taken, but judging by a report prepared for the meeting by council officers, the proposals face several major planning hurdles.
Conflict with “centres-first” policy
So, the report says:
“The proposals would result in a significant increase in the level of retail floor space on this out-of-centre site, which would conflict the centre-first approach advocated in the current UDP (Unitary Development Plan – the framework plan for development in Leeds) and the more recent guidance provided in (the government’s National Panning Policy Framework) NPPF and the Council’s own Core Strategy.”
Impact on local cinemas
Hurdle number two comes with the inclusion of a cinema in the expansion plans. According to the NPPF, out-of-town sites should only be considered suitable for cinemas if more central locations are not available.
For the application to go through it’s going to have to be demonstrated that a cinema at White Rose wouldn’t have a negative impact on Leeds only existing multiplex, The Light, on the multiplex planned for the city centre as part of the Eastgate development, or on the smaller, specialist Everyman cinema which will form part of the Trinity development.
“Assurances will need to be sought that there will be no impact on these existing city centre facilities as a result of the proposals,” the report says.
Then there’s the hurdle that’s presented by the three new planned retail units. These, according to the planning officers’ report, raise “particular concern”.
“These three smaller units could accommodate uses similar to those which could be provided within smaller nearby centres such as Morley, Middleton and Dewsbury Road and therefore have the potential to significantly impact on existing investment within these nearby centres,” the report says.
Debenhams and Primark expansion – what if?
Giving the green light to the planned expansion of the Debenhams and Primark stores doesn’t appear to be straightforward either.
While both retailers say they intend to retain their stores in nearby Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield, what happens if the recession hits and it’s a city centre Debenhams or Primark that bites the dust rather than the one at White Rose?
That’s an eventuality that’s causing concern to Leeds Civic Trust – a concern that’s echoed by planning officers in their report.
“Members’ (councillors’) thoughts would be appreciated as to what assurances in this respect should be sought from these retailers as part of the scheme in terms of assessing the impact of the development and ensuring that it would not impact detrimentally on the well-being of these existing centres,” it says.
Wider consultation suggested
All in all, it looks like the developers have a lot of leg work to do to assess the impact of the expansion within the region and closer to home in south Leeds:
“A critical part of the consideration of these proposals relates to their impact not only on Leeds city centre, but also on the town and local centres around the White Rose centre such as Morley, and on centres beyond the Leeds boundary including Wakefield, Bradford and Kirklees,” the report says.
“… an impact assessment and sequential test for the development addressing the implications for Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield and Kirklees as well as other centres in south Leeds is to be submitted as part of the application,” it adds. “The applicants have been requested to contact these authorities as part of their pre-application discussions.”
While acknowledging the consultation that’s gone on so far, Council officers have drawn up a list of “local community groups and stakeholders” who, they suggest, should also be encouraged to have their say about the expansion plans.
No word yet from Hammerson
Who we haven’t heard from yet in all of this is Hammerson, developer of the Eastgate retail and leisure development in Leeds.
This time last year Hammerson was writing to Leeds City Council in no uncertain terms, insisting that there should be no further development at White Rose till at least 2016.
So far they don’t appear to have commented on the latest plans by rivals Land Securities to expand White Rose.
There’s still time.
Unless they’ve changed their minds.