Protesters demand Bridgwater Tesco inquiry

7:00am Thursday 3rd January 2013

FURIOUS campaigners have called for a public inquiry into Tesco’s bid for a giant Bridgwater supermarket after it emerged that taxpayers’ money has been used to process the planning application.

The Mercury has reported how Somerset County Council and Sedgemoor District Council, joint land owners of the Northgate site where Tesco wants to build an Extra store, were in dispute with the supermarket over the planning application fee.

The councils believed Tesco owed £47,865, while the supermarket argued that the correct fee was £27,665.

The county council has paid to the district council, which is the planning authority, the disputed £20,200 as a temporary measure to register the application, but it has emerged that no more money will be forthcoming from Tesco.

Protest group Bridgwater Forward, which demonstrated outside the district council offices in King Square in December, said: “This is a scandalous misuse of public money and Tesco should pay it back immediately.”

The group also called for Tesco’s application to go before an “independent public inquiry”, and said people in Bridgwater had “lost faith and confidence” in the district council.

However, a district council spokesman said: “It’s entirely lawful and, indeed, normal practice for land owners to pay or contribute to the fee in relation to a planning application on their own land.

“Until the full planning fee is paid an application cannot be registered, and therefore cannot be available for the public to view and comment upon.

“The suggestion has been made that Tesco has been offered ‘a planning fee incentive’ or an ‘inducement’. This is not the case.

“The full planning fee of £47,865 has been paid. There has been no ‘concession’.

“The fee has not been reduced and none of the fee has been waived.”

A county council spokesman said: “Sedgemoor, as the planning authority, will carry out the majority of the work assessing this application, and Somerset County Council has paid the district council £20,000 in recognition of this.

“If the county council had looked to sell its share of the site independently it would have incurred a similar cost and therefore it’s a sensible recognition of the costs involved.”

A Tesco spokesman said: “The application fee has been agreed with the county council, who are part-owners of the land.”

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