Hitchin Tesco Express application ‘snuck’ through

AN APPLICATION to open up a Tesco Express store in Hitchin was “snuck” through.

The store is due to open at a former office block in Lyon Court, near the railway station, in a few weeks time.

An application was put in to North Herts District Council (NHDC) by an agent several months ago, to change the use of the block to residential and commercial.

But neither officers nor councillors knew that Tesco was behind the application until recently, as the application was done through a third-party.

Cllr Judi Billing labelled it a sly move.

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“It was very sneaky,” she told the Comet.

“An application came in for a change of use, which was mostly flats with a convenience store on the bottom. We thought maybe it was someone local, and it might even be an opportunity for a local initiative. We didn’t know the people behind it, but we now know that it was Tesco.”

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A further application to increase the opening hours was refused last Thursday by NHDC’s planning control committee, but an application to install an ATM was granted.

The former was despite advice from officers, who had recommended approval to be given in a report to the committee.

It has done little to appease residents though, who are still concerned on the impact the store will have on them.

“It will still be open long hours, it’s little consolation,” added Cllr Billing.

Ian Fullstone, NHDC’s head of development and building control, said: “In September 2011 the council granted planning permission to Threadneedle Property Investments for a conversion of the offices at Lyon Court to a residential development, plus ground floor retail convenience space.

“The council did not have any involvement in the decision as to which retailer would occupy the retail space as this is a commercial decision for the applicant, not a planning matter.”

NHDC added that the proposed extension of opening hours was rejected as it would “be likely to result in conditions detrimental to the residential amenity of surrounding occupiers”.

An application for an alcohol licence will be considered by NHDC’s licensing and appeals committee in May.

That application has attracted criticism, with fears over anti-social behaviour and street drinking.

A spokesman from Tesco said: “The change of use was acquired by the developer of the site to alter the premises for retail and residential use. We are simply taking a lease on the ground floor of this site and any minor applications needed for this would have naturally been submitted in our name.

“As soon as we secured the lease we notified residents closest to the building.”

In Letchworth GC, a former pub run by Greene King was sold to Tesco, with the store due to open in the autumn. And last year, Tesco opened a store at the former Chells Family Pub in Stevenage.

But the chain didn’t need to submit planning applications for change of use for either of the sites under planning law, because of their previous use.

Tesco had applied for planning permission for signage at the Stevenage store, but this was all done under its own name.

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