Disappointment as Extending Northgate Hours Passed in Close Vote

Cllr Kathy Pearce leading the objections to the Northgate variation of delivery hours

At today’s Development Committee of Sedgemoor District Council held on Skype, a variation of conditions to allow lorry deliveries to the proposed new Aldi superstore on Northgate to start at 6am and extend until midnight was passed by 7 votes to 5 despite 24 letters from residents, and a major objection from the Town Council to the officers support for the variations which caused the item to be referred to committee.  Westover Councillor Brian Smedley, who spoke against the proposal at the meeting,  said he was ‘Disappointed‘ by the failure of Sedgemoor Planning councillors to throw out the bid for extra hours for deliveries  “Residents concerns have been disregarded and yet again supermarkets are being allowed to call the shots. This was an appalling decision as they could have said right at the start that this was their intention but instead they have slipped it in as a ‘variation’ after the initial planning permission was granted.

Cllr Brian Smedley ponders on the future of the Northgate project

Councillor Smedley (Labour, Westover) said “Bridgwater Town Council and Westover ward councillors have supported this important development on Northgate and we appreciate that the inclusion of Aldi  is a key element to make the rest of the project happen but it needs to be responsive to the concerns of the neighbours like any good project and in simple terms when the planning permission was originally granted the terms that the neighbours accepted were simply no deliveries between 11pm and 7 am and the reason given was to safeguard local residents from noise and disturbance, in accordance with policies D16, and D26. The original permission was granted based on this, however, these proposed changes add 2 hours onto the original agreement and this would happen 7 days a week. Town council has objected because of the noise pollution to many residents who live very close to this and these people who have until now supported this project will only have some 6 hours a day without the interruption of HGV and other vehicles delivering goods. The residents, ward councillors representing them and the town council belief the original times were reasonable and that Aldi began construction with the full knowledge of these conditions so it is not seen as particularly honourable to attempt to insert these changes at a later stage”

Officers had suggested a 6 month trial period to see how the  variations would work, but Cllr Smedley rejected this saying “Residents are putting up with a lot of disruption during the construction phase and will be asked to put up with more during the remainder of the Northgate project , both during construction and subsequent operation, so it is very important that they are dealt a fair hand at this early stage because they will not simply roll over and acquiesce to any new changes and demands, quite the opposite, their resistance will grow and their resolve will stiffen. The defence for this change is that the variation wouldn’t affect the amenity of those residents residing nearby – well clearly it would – by 2 hours a day, 7 days a week Residents do not want a temporary 6 month trial period to assess the impact – they want you to honour the original terms of the planning decision.”

The Debate

Cllr Kathy Pearce “I wish that stores would be upfront!”

Phil Marsden on behalf of Aldi Stores addressed the meeting saying that Aldi had a wide range of stores to deliver to and that this would provide them with an opportunity to spread deliveries out during the day around the region.

The committee went into debate and the attack against the changes was led by Cllr Kathy Pearce (Labour, Westover) who said “I wish that stores would be upfront when they made these applications in the first place instead of first getting planning approval and then trying to make changes. We agreed to policies that protect the residents from disturbance and pollution and they have to put up with this 16 hours a day already. There is considerable opposition to this and we should not support it. I am concerned about the increased number of lorry movements reversing into the loading bay with alarms blaring at all hours.”

Planning officer Liam Evans rather obliquely answered by saying ‘there would be no alarms going off between midnight and 6am’ – of course there never would have been.

Cllr Bill Revans (LibDem, North Petherton) supported Cllr Pearce saying “I can’t see that anything has changed from the original application so there is no reason to make any changes to what we agreed.”

The assault on the members trying to uphold the residents right suddenly came thick and fast from various members. Cllr Alistair Hendry (Con, Burnham Central)  was the first to contribute jumping in almost before the officers had finished, saying “I very much support this application. This will be no problem for the residents and we’ve got to be seen to be fair so I strongly support this!”

He was backed by Cllr Alan Bradford |(Con, North Petherton) who said “I support this because it’s a competitive industry these supermarkets. We’ve got a Tescos in North Petherton and that’s alright. Nothing’s black and white but i’ll tell you whats changed….Covid!”

Cllr Revans quickly interjected saying “But during Covid there are no restrictions on delivery so that’s actually a bit misleading. And on the issue of ‘competition’ are we actually saying we want to set a precedent that would allow all supermarkets to start varying their hours now?”

Planning officer Dawn DeVries confirmed that the Government had indeed encouraged a degree of lenience during covid.

A Close Vote

The Committee went to the vote after less then 45 minutes discussion and the result was mixed and close. Members votes were recorded. With 7 for, 5 against, 1 abstention and 2 absent the case was barely -but numerically, won.

FORFilmer (Con, Knoll), Scott (Con, Axbridge), Hendry (Con, Burnham Central) Kingham (Con, W Polden) , Bradford (Con, North Petherton) , Grimes (Con, Berrow), Glassford (Lab, Fairfax)

AGAINSTPearce (Lab, Westover), Granter (Lab, Fairfax) , Revans (LibDem, North Petherton) Bolt (Con, Cannington & Wembdon), Perry (Con,Kings Isle),

ABSTAINFacey (Con, Burnham North)

ABSENTGibson (Lab, Eastover), Murphy (Lib Dem, Burnham North)