Tesco Stores Ltd v Dundee City Council
 UKSC 13
THE SUPREME COURT
On appeal from:
Lord Hope, Deputy President
Martin Kingston QC
(Instructed by Semple Fraser LLP)
Douglas Armstrong QC
James Findlay QC
(Instructed by Gillespie Macandrew LLP)
Interveners (Asda Stores Limited and MacDonald Estates Group PLC)
Malcolm Thomson QC
(Instructed by Brodies LLP)
Heard on 15 and 16 February 2012
LORD REED (with whom Lord Brown , Lord Kerr and Lord Dyson agree)
If you drive into Dundee from the west along the A90 (T), you will pass on your left a large industrial site. It was formerly occupied by NCR, one of Dundee's largest employers, but its factory complex closed some years ago and the site has lain derelict ever since. In 2009 Asda Stores Ltd and MacDonald Estates Group plc, the interveners in the present appeal, applied for planning permission to develop a superstore there. Dundee City Council, the respondents, concluded that a decision to grant planning permission would not be in accordance with the development plan, but was nevertheless justified by other material considerations. Their decision to grant the application is challenged in these proceedings by Tesco Stores Ltd, the appellants, on the basis that the respondents proceeded on a misunderstanding of one of the policies in the development plan: a misunderstanding which, it is argued, vitiated their assessment of whether a departure from the plan was justified. In particular, it is argued that the respondents misunderstood a requirement, in the policies concerned with out of centre retailing, that it must be established that no suitable site is available, in the first instance, within and thereafter on the edge of city, town or district centres.
Section 37(2) of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997, as in force at the time of the relevant decision, provides:
"In dealing with [an application for planning permission] the authority shall have regard to the provisions of the development plan, so far as material to the application, and to any other material considerations."
Section 25 provides:
"Where, in making any determination under the planning Acts, regard is to be had to the development plan, the determination is, unless material considerations indicate otherwise—
(a) to be made in accordance with that plan…"
The development plan in the present case is an "old development plan" within the meaning of paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the 1997 Act. As such, it is defined by section 24 of the 1997 Act, as that section applied before the coming into force of section 2 of the Planning Etc. (Scotland) Act 2006, as including the approved structure plan and the adopted or approved local plan. The relevant structure plan in the present case is the Dundee and Angus Structure Plan, which became operative in 2002, at a time when the NCR plant remained in operation. As is explained in the introduction to the structure plan, its purpose is to provide a long term vision for the area and to set out the broad land use planning strategy guiding development and change. It includes a number of strategic planning policies. It sets the context for local plans, which translate the strategy into greater detail. Its preparation took account of national planning policy guidelines.
The structure plan includes a chapter on town centres and retailing. The introduction explains that the relevant Government guidance is contained in National Planning Policy Guidance 8, Town Centres and Retailing (revised 1998). I note that that document (NPPG 8) was replaced in 2006 by Scottish Planning Policy: Town Centres and Retailing (SPP 8), which was in force at the time of the decision under challenge, and which was itself replaced in 2010 by Scottish Planning Policy (SPP). The relevant sections of all three documents are in generally similar terms. The structure plan continues, at para 5.2:
"A fundamental principle of NPPG 8 is that of the sequential approach to site selection for new retail developments…On this basis, town centres should be the first choice for such developments, followed by edge of centre sites and, only after this, out of centre sites which are currently or potentially accessible by different means of transport."
In relation to out of centre developments, that approach is reflected in Town Centres and Retailing Policy 4: Out of Centre Retailing:
"In keeping with the sequential approach to site selection for new retail developments, proposals for new or expanded out of centre retail developments in excess of 1000 sq m gross will only be acceptable where it can be established that:
• no suitable site is available, in the first instance, within and thereafter on the edge of city, town or district centres;
• individually or cumulatively it would not prejudice the vitality and viability of existing city, town or district centres;
• the proposal would address a deficiency in shopping provision which cannot be met within or on the edge of the above centres;
• the site is readily accessible by modes of transport other than the car;
• the proposal is consistent with other Structure Plan policies."
The relevant local plan is the Dundee Local Plan, which came into operation in 2005, prior to the closure of the NCR plant. Like the structure plan, it notes that national planning policy guidance emphasises the need to protect and enhance the vitality and viability of town centres. It continues, at para 52.2:
"As part of this approach planning authorities should adopt a sequential approach to new shopping developments with first preference being town centres, which in Dundee's case are the City centre and the District Centres."
That approach is reflected in Policy 45: Location of New Retail Developments:
"The City Centre and District Centres will be the locations of first choice for new or expanded retail developments not already identified in the Local Plan. Proposals for retail developments outwith these locations will only be acceptable where it can be established that:
a) no suitable site is available, in the first instance, within and thereafter on the edge of the City Centre or District Centres; and
b) individually or cumulatively it would not prejudice the vitality and viability of the City Centre or District Centres; and
c) the proposal would address a deficiency in shopping provision which cannot be met within or on the edge of these centres; and
d) the site is readily accessible by modes of transport other than the car; and
e) the proposal is consistent with other Local Plan policies."
It is also relevant to note the guidance given in NPPG 8, as revised in 1998, to which the retailing sections of the structure plan and the local plan referred. Under the heading "Sequential Approach", the guidance stated:
"12. Planning authorities and developers should adopt a sequential approach to selecting sites for new retail, commercial leisure developments and other key town centre uses…First preference should be for town centre sites, where sites or buildings suitable for conversion are available, followed by edge-of-centre sites, and only then by out-of-centre sites in locations that are, or can be made easily accessible by a choice of means of transport…
13. In support of town centres as the first choice, the Government recognises that the application of the sequential approach requires flexibility and realism from developers and retailers as well as planning authorities. In preparing their proposals developers and retailers should have regard to the format, design, scale of the development, and the amount of car parking in relation to the circumstances of the particular town centre. In addition they should also address the need to identify and assemble sites which can meet not only their requirements, but in a manner sympathetic to the town setting. As part of such an approach, they should consider the scope for accommodating the proposed development in a different built form, and where appropriate adjusting or sub-dividing large proposals, in order that their scale might offer a better fit with existing development in the town centre…
14. Planning authorities should also be responsive to the needs of retailers and other town centre businesses. In consultation with the private sector, they should assist in identifying sites in the town centre which could be suitable and viable, for example, in terms of size and siting for the proposed use, and are likely to become available in a reasonable time…
15. Only if it can be demonstrated that all town centre options have been thoroughly addressed and a view taken on availability, should less central sites in out-of-centre locations be considered for key town centre uses. Where development proposals in such locations fall outwith the development plan framework, it is for developers to demonstrate that town centre and edge-of-centre options have been thoroughly assessed. Even where a developer, as part of a sequential approach, demonstrates an out-of-centre location to be the most appropriate, the impact on the vitality and viability of existing centres still has to be shown to be acceptable…"
The interveners' application was for planning permission to develop a foodstore, café and petrol filling station, with associated car parking, landscaping and infrastructure, including access roads. The proposals also involved improvements to the junction with the A90 (T), the upgrading of a pedestrian underpass, the provision of footpaths and cycle ways, and improvements to adjacent roadways. A significant proportion of the former NCR site lay outside the application site. It was envisaged that vehicular access to this land could be...
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