By Martin Shaw
TRADERS in Mirfield have accused retail giant Tesco of taking advantage of a planning loophole to open a new town centre store.
Tesco this week moved in to start conversion work on the landmark former Black Bull pub – despite large scale public opposition.
The company wants to turn the derelict pub into a Tesco Express convenience store – and doesn’t need planning permission.
Under outdated planning laws, believed to be linked to an old Licensing Act, no application is needed to change a pub into shops.
Tesco are taking a lease on the ground floor while the upper floors could become flats. The store could open early next year.
The move has sparked petitions and public meetings and a march and a further protest meeting are planned for next week.
Coun David Pinder, Mirfield Town Council’s planning chief, said while there was a great deal of opposition to the new store it couldn’t be stopped.
“Changing a pub into a shop doesn’t need planning permission,” he said. “This goes back years to the old Licensing Act and alcohol being sold on or off licensed premises.
“Tesco are taking advantage of this all over the country. As a council we are very frustrated but those are the rules.
“We are trying to preserve Mirfield as an attractive place for small, independent shopkeepers but local authorities are powerless because of planning rules.”
Mirfield recently lost another pub, the Yorkshire Volunteer in Lower Hopton, which also became a convenience store.
Tesco has submitted EIGHT separate planning applications for the Black Bull but all for smallscale alterations.
They are: a new shopfront; a cash machine; air conditioning plant; a satellite dish; a rear canopy; a gantry; parking signs; and general signage.
Coun Martyn Bolt (Con, Mirfield) said: “They are seeking planning permission piece by piece. They should be asking the public whether they want a Tesco in the centre of Mirfield.”
Protestors said they have nothing against Tesco in particular but if it goes ahead, there will be FOUR supermarkets within a 100yard radius.
The Coop has a big store across the road, Lidl is undergoing a £1 million refurbishment in nearby Station Road and a Nisa Local store opened recently in Huddersfield Road.
Local residents living just behind the Black Bull, many of them elderly and disabled, fear their lives will be blighted by noise and nuisance.
Former licensee Geoff Robinson, 70, of Queen Street, said they had nothing against Tesco itself but the location right on a busy junction was wrong.
Geoff, who has collected more than 100 signatures on a petition, said the store would dominate and overwhelm the town centre.
“It’s going to become Tescotown,” he said. “We are going to have the London train stopping at Mirfield soon and people will walk up into town and what is the first thing they see? Tesco.”
Current Mayor of Mirfield Coun Pat Sutcliffe held two meetings last week and has urged people to join a march at 6.30pm on Tuesday.
Protestors will meet outside the Black Bull with banners and march to a public meeting at nearby St Paul’s Church.
Coun Sutcliffe said: “We are a thriving little town bucking the national trend with three new shops opening in recent months.
“Other towns are seeing shops being boarded up and we don’t want that for Mirfield.
“We have the Coop, Lidl and Nisa. How many more supermarkets do we need?”
She added: “People feel this has been dropped on them. There was no prior consultation and the plan hasn’t been thought through.”
Butcher Chris Ramsden, whose family business is just across from the Black Bull, could scupper the eight planning applications but may only delay the inevitable.
Mr Ramsden says his shop deeds show he owns about 12ft of the private Princess Street road between his shop and the pub. Tesco should have officially notified him that they required access over his land, even though it is a right of way and cannot be blocked.
Mr Ramsden has objected to Kirklees Council and all eight applications could be rejected on a technicality and have to be resubmitted. Parking restrictions could to be imposed on the free parking area around the pub and there are fears for traffic congestion and pedestrian safety.
Large lorries will service the new store and all vehicles must turn left towards Dewsbury, not go right into the mouth of the traffic light junction. However while The Press was there on Wednesday a large van ignored the leftonly sign to turn right and go down Station Road.
Coun Andrew White, of Mick’s Fruit and Veg, said: “One driver’s mistake and the road will be snarled up both ways. This is already one of the busiest roads in West Yorkshire.”
Suzi Walker, who runs Stitch Witch in the town centre, said Mirfield could become a ghost town but her main concern was for road safety. “Imagine HGVs coming into and out of Princess Street,” she said. “It’s an accident waiting to happen.”
Tesco spokesman Deborah Hayeems denied Tesco had tried to keep their plans ‘under the radar’ by submitting individual applications.
She said: “We submit separate applications for practical reasons and the fact that there are so many applications would in fact increase the awareness of our plans, rather than hide them.”
Tesco confirmed that customers of the neighbouring businesses would be able to use the car park and that they would monitor usage to ensure it was not being abused for longterm parking.
“Our experience elsewhere is that businesses close by benefit from the additional footfall that our Express stores bring, especially where they have a great offer like the butcher.
“We do research the local market thoroughly before proposing an investment of this nature and it is important to us that the store will become a welcome part of the Mirfield, will employ people from the local community and will contribute to the health and vitality of the town.”
"Tesco Will Kill Mirfield" say tradersFriday 19th August 2011
By Martin Shaw