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    Decision deferred on controversial convenience store plan in Hetton

    Former car showroom site off Station Road, Hetton, February, 2024 (Photo via LDRS)

    By: Chris Binding, Local Democracy Reporter

    Controversial plans for a new convenience store in Hetton have been put on hold to allow councillors to visit the site over fears it would “cause chaos”.

    Sunderland City Council’s Planning and Highways Committee, at a meeting last week, delayed making a decision on a new shop at Station Road.

    The site and building were previously occupied by a car sales showroom and sit adjacent to the car park of Hetton Social Club.

    New plans aimed to change the use of part of the premises to a “retail convenience store/supermarket”, with the application described as ‘part-retrospective’.

    Since the plans were submitted last year, works have taken place at the site including new signage advertising it as a Go Local Extra store.

    Applicants have confirmed five parking spaces are proposed for customers in a forecourt area, as well as cycle parking.

    During a council consultation exercise on the plans, the shop scheme sparked public opposition with more than 20 objections.

    Concerns included increased disturbance, the lack of “adequate parking”, highway safety issues, anti-social behaviour, litter, property devaluation and works taking place at the site without planning permission.

    Hetton Town Council also submitted an objection raising concerns about the “oversupply” of retail outlets in the area, issues around site access, road safety, and potential noise nuisance due to “long business hours”.

    A decision on the plans was expected at a Planning and Highways Committee at City Hall on March 4, 2024, with council planning officers recommending the scheme for approval.

    Council planners deemed the shop conversion acceptable but noted, in a committee report, that further applications would be needed for signage and a cash machine at the site.

    It was also noted that some works that had already taken place, prior to the planning application being decided, were not endorsed and “ultimately undertaken at the applicant’s risk”.

    A representative for applicant Ramalingham Sutheswaran, speaking at City Hall, stressed the shop would be a “positive development” for the area providing choice, and would also benefit neighbours.

    While it was acknowledged that work had already taken place on site, the applicant’s representative said most of the work was internal and not a ‘material’ planning matter.

    Applicants also stressed that the shop had not opened for trade.

    Opponents of the shop plan raised concerns at City Hall about deliveries and parking, highway safety and the potential for disputes over access to private land, including customers parking in the adjacent social club’s car park.

    Council highways officers, in a council report,  said proposed parking for the shop was “sufficient” and that spaces “would not need to be formally laid out, to allow for manoeuvrability on site”.

    It was also noted that the increase in short-stay parking and associated vehicle movements would “likely be a nominal increase spread throughout the course of the day”.

    The council committee report added: “The applicant has provided additional information to confirm that there is sufficient space within the site under the control of the applicant to provide servicing and turning manoeuvres”.

    However, councillor David Geddis, Mayor of Hetton Town Council, maintained the shop use would “cause chaos” if approved.

    While acknowledging that the site was previously a car sales showroom, he noted that visits to this business were “sporadic” and that the convenience store would attract more frequent visits.

    The town councillor, speaking at City Hall, added: “I have no problem with the building being used and I don’t want, like many people, to see a building derelict.

    “But there are enormous issues here that nobody seems to think are important […] to anyone that thinks that five car parking spaces at the front of that building are adequate, you’re living in cloud cuckoo land”.

    During discussion on the application, the Planning and Highways Committee raised concerns about the scheme.

    Councillor Iain Scott, who is also a Hetton city councillor, criticised the retrospective nature of the shop plan, raised concerns about parking and requested a site visit to allow councillors to make an “informed decision”.

    The reasons for the site visit, which were later agreed after a vote, included looking at the shop’s proposed parking area and its distance to another separate parking area.

    Councillor James Warne added: “There are two contrary views here so the best thing we can do as a committee is actually go and have a look at it”.

    Councillors agreed to bring the planning application back to a future meeting of the Planning and Highways Committee.

    (Local Democracy Reporting Service)

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