We commented unfavourably, 13 November 2012, on the earlier version of the planning agreement as proposed by the applicants and we see no reason to change our view with the submission of a further revised version.
Correspondence from Babergh’s solicitors makes it explicit that substantial harm to designated heritage assets would only be permitted to occur because of the exceptional circumstances – a need for a considerable increase in employment by a Sudbury based employer. (Babergh’s own Historic Buildings Officer, Michael Collins, argued for a more restricted development of the site which might have reduced this harm but he seems to have been ignored)
The ground for our opposition is still primarily the lack of any firm commitments from Prolog that they would construct and then occupy the two buildings. For example the agreement is no more than an option to build Building A for up to 7 years from the date of planning permission, and whilst Building B has to be built within 3 years Prolog only commits to occupy them for a mere 18 months from the date of both buildings being operational.
This lack of any real certainty that both buildings will actually be constructed and then occupied, if only for a limited time, by Prolog casts strong doubt upon their offer to provide employment for a further 500 full time equivalent staff. Indeed the offer is only “to use reasonable endeavours” to provide such jobs. Who is to judge what is “reasonable” and how long would any of these additional jobs last when the firm is prepared to give only an 18 month commitment to its location on this site?
This gives the lie to the headline that a local employer is desperate to increase staffing levels by a substantial amount – existing staff levels, to be retained, are 152 full time staff and 278 part time/casual. We read that Prolog have just laid off/relocated 28 of their existing workforce call centre staff.
We wonder whether there is an underlying strategy, by Caverswall Holdings Limited (“the owner”) and Highbridge Properties Plc (not local but the applicant and presumably the funder), using Prolog as a convenient local vehicle. Perhaps we are too cynical but there is no firm evidence to assure us otherwise. To quote Babergh’s solicitors again “(the applicant)….cannot sidestep the exceptional circumstances that led to a positive recommendation by disposing of the development to another unknown occupier.
We urge the rejection of this revised agreement, and failing the submission of an acceptable version, of the planning application itself.
B/13/00509/LBC LLOYDS BANK MARKET HILL
We are pleased to see the omission of the illuminated signs behind the ground floor windows, although the internally illuminated symbol in the porch remains. Can we make a general point with these applications on behalf of corporate businesses in the town centre that the planning authority on receipt of such applications responds immediately that they are contrary to planning policy in the Conservation Area, whether or not the building is listed , and requests a revised application before circulating it for comment. Bury St Edmunds would seem to have a much more stringent policy.