Tesco clears latest hurdle

A GOVERNMENT body has decided not to call in Tesco’s planning application - despite saying it still has concerns over safety.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) this week said it would not be advising the Secretary of State to examine the decision by Harrogate planners to approve the proposals earlier this month.

The announcement came despite the HSE initially saying it recommended the plans be turned down because of safety fears at the former gasworks site. But it has reiterated its previous advice that permission for the plans should be refused - despite its decision this week - drawing criticism from Tesco’s opponents in Harrogate.

An HSE spokesman said: “After careful consideration of this case, HSE has decided not to request call-in.

“However, HSE’s land use planning advice remains that there are sufficient safety grounds to refuse permission for the development. HSE’s decision not to request call-in in this case does not mean that this advice is withdrawn.

“The Health and Safety Executive is a statutory consultee in the planning process. HSE advises on planning matters, but the local authority makes the decisions on them.

“The presence of natural gas pipelines in the vicinity of the development is not a determining factor in this planning application.”

Brian Dunsby, chief executive of Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce, has previously raised concerns about the scheme and spoke at the planning committee meeting about the potential dangers of building on the New Park site.

He said: “We are disappointed but not surprised, because the criteria under which the Health and Safety Executive can refer to the Secretary of State are very specific in high-risk situations.

“They have reiterated their advice against granting permission. They still say don’t do it.

“We’re expecting the Secretary of State to call it in because this is just one of many reasons why the planning committee decision was flawed.”

Mr Dunsby has written to the Secretary of State setting out the chamber’s concerns and urging a public inquiry into the decision. He said a “groundswell of opposition” had formed, “with people realising what the planning committee has done in accepting this application”.

The HSE’s decision was welcomed by Tesco. Spokesman Matthew Magee said: “It’s another step towards the supermarket the north of Harrogate needs.”

He said Tesco could not begin work until the Secretary of State had decided whether or not to call in the plans, so no date has been set for construction to start on the site. However, Tesco hopes to open the store by Christmas 2013.

The plans were approved by Harrogate Borough Council’s planning committee on September 6, following years of controversy. While many argued the development would increase congestion in the area, others said it would in fact reduce cross-town traffic by offering an alternative to the existing stores in the town centre and to the south of Harrogate.

Approval was given subject to conditions including a £1.57m investment in the town centre, a guarantee to help preserve the viability of services in the Jennyfield District Centre and paying for the introduction of a new bus service in the area.