Lidl – Another ‘final straw’ for the Asda roundabout?

At the meeting of the Planning Committee on 30th June, approval was given to the planning application for the new Lidl store beside the B&Q site in northern Bedhampton.

While this hardly came as a surprise to those who regularly watch the activities of the Planning Committee, it seems that the Committee and its chairman, Cllr. Crellin, finally recognise that the growth in traffic at the ‘Asda roundabout’ junctions might actually be a cause for concern.

The image below shows the site of the new Lidl store, together with the 100 new houses already approved for the Hulbert Road, just to the north.

The two main concerns expressed during the Planning Committee meeting were:

(1) The impact on the Asda roundabout and traffic through Purbrook Way
(2) Fear that opening a new Lidl store on Purbrook Way will sound the death knell for the existing Lidl store in Sombourne Drive, Leigh Park. “If Lidl goes, Park Parade is a ghost town“.

Full video of the Planning Committee discussion of the Lidl application

You can listen to the complete segment from the Planning Committee by pressing the ‘play’ arrow on the following video. Alternatively, you can skip to the relevant parts of the meeting by taking the links in the table below:

Planning Officer’s introduction – Steve WeaverTake this link
Deputation from the applicant’s consultantTake this link
Questions to the applicant’s consultantsTake this link
Officers comments on verbal deputations
(In which Simon Rowberry, Interim Head of Planning & Building Control, tries to make himself heard by the chair!)
Take this link
The debateTake this link
The decisionTake this link

Highlights of the Planning Committee discussion of the Lidl application

The Planning Officer, Steve Weaver, takes twenty minutes to deliver a dry and detailed breakdown of his report and recommendations. As seems always the case, the application has been considered in exhaustive – and exhausting – detail with respect to the appropriate documented policies, but with a complete lack of regard to the wider context of the development site. Nobody seems to have looked at the bigger picture and asked themselves the obvious question, “Does it actually make sense to build it here?”

It would be helpful if HBC Planning Services reviewed their validation process for planning applications. A small amount of effort spent in early reconnaissance could save a significant amount of time and effort being wasted by developers, consultees and the general public by rejecting applications which are inappropriate in a wider site context.

If Planning Services can’t see the obvious, then how can we expect HCC Highways to add any value to their consultation effort? The developer’s traffic consultant will clearly always demonstrate that there isn’t a problem, but neither HBC Planning Services or HCC Highways seem to have it in their processes to apply an essential level of contextual scrutiny.

A member of the Committee remarked that local residents are already complaining about being ‘stuck in Asda and unable to get out’. We’d also add that the risk to schoolchildren crossing the existing B&Q site entrance on foot while staring at their phones is already high enough in the morning and afternoon peak times. Adding another lane to the junction and another store to the mix isn’t going to help matters.

Cllr. Tindall sparked an interesting discussion regarding the developer’s assertion that 80% of the public are in favour of this development. The discussion moves on to the concern that development of this store will result in the eventual closure of the Leigh Park (Somborne Drive) Lidl store. In a subsequent question, Cllr. Tindall pushes the developer on the ability of the Asda roundabout to cope with extra traffic.

After Cllr. Stone digs a little deeper, the Committee Chair, Cllr. Crellin, also makes a strong point about the traffic in Purbrook Way. The traffic consultant’s response is typical of the breed:

Cllr. Crellin:  “You’re saying about you’ve not assessed the traffic coming from, I would say, east on the old Purbrook Way,  the lower Purbrook Way?  That is where the problem is.”

Traffic consultant: “Coming onto the Asda roundabout?”

Cllr. Crellin: “Yes. That is where the main problem is.  I mean we get all the through traffic and I know this is not a question but I don’t see how you’re claiming that there’s not going to be more traffic. I shop in Lidl in Leigh Park.  I’ve got a car.  I live two minutes away walking from there.  I see that roundabout every day and by far the most traffic comes up Purbrook Way.”

Traffic consultant: [after a pause]  “All I’m saying is we assessed the impact there and we looked at the operation of the junction at the moment.  Hampshire County Council provided…  We used the model that they used to assess that junction because it was our understanding… I don’t know how many years ago … that there was improvement works done to that roundabout and as part of that we utilise their model, added our flows onto there and from their modelling they produced, and which we’ve utilised, it did not raise any concerns from a capacity aspect.”

Development consultant: “… the junction assessments were those that were required and suggested to be assessed by Hampshire…”

Cllr. Crellin: “OK”

But it’s not really OK, is it?

It was only seven years ago that £7m was spent reconfiguring the ‘Asda roundabout’, increasing the size of the junctions and selectively adding traffic lights to ‘permanently help with the flow of traffic at all times’. Those who use that roundabout regularly might be excused for believing that such a ‘permanent improvement’ has never happened.

We would suggest that Hampshire County Council’s traffic models from seven years ago are hardly a sound substitute for a comprehensive assessment of the traffic load at this roundabout in context with other approved developments that are about to exacerbate the problem.

For good measure, Cllr. Stone asked a sensible question on whether or not delivery trucks would be able to easily access the site, given that there was no other service access to the site other than that to be used by shoppers. (The response given by the developer seemed almost to be an afterthought.)

Observations on the decision

Perhaps the Amazon penny has finally dropped. In contrast to the infamous meeting held in September last year, even the Planning Committee Chairman now seems to appreciate that the roundabout is once more becoming overloaded, particularly with through traffic from the eastern side of Purbrook Way.

The committee would have done well to consider the impact on that roundabout from the 100 new homes already approved for Hulbert Road. It is those new homes, plus those eventually to be built at Campdown and the Barratts homes at ‘Harbour Place’ that reinforce Lidl’s business justification and will provide much of the additional traffic.

However, by far the biggest new loading on the lower Purbrook Way junction at the Asda roundabout will come from the ill-sited Amazon distribution warehouse in New Lane. As that application stated, 95% of the traffic generated by that site will require direct access to the A27 and the A3(M), and in the case of the A3(M), that means via lower Purbrook Way and the Asda roundabout.

We’d also suggest to the Planning Committee that the main commercial risk to the continued existence of the Leigh Park (Somborne Drive) Lidl will come, not from another Lidl site but more likely from the Amazon Fresh operation that will soon be operating from New Lane. That’s a factor that Lidl will certainly have considered in their commercial business case and a good reason for them to hedge their bets with a new store.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s a shame that this bigger picture was overlooked by the Planning Committee when the decision was taken in February to let Amazon oversee their own traffic generation.

The Planning Committee has been refreshed for 2022, albeit under the same Chair. We will no doubt miss the energetic contributions from Cllr. Hughes this year but were greatly encouraged to hear some considered and probing questioning from both Cllr. Tindall and Cllr. Stone. If the other members of the committee rise to their example and start to generate real debate, much might be achieved with the current committee.

We’ll leave the last word to Mr. Rowberry. It’s good to know he’s keeping an eye on things, even if the Chair doesn’t seem to notice!