The planned relocation of ASDA's South Bank superstore to a new edge-of-town site at Middlehaven near Middlesbrough has came under attack in London's high court.
Food retailing rivals, Wm Morrison Supermarkets Ltd, say that if the ASDA scheme goes ahead, its own proposals to develop a superstore at Berwick Hills, for which it has already been granted planning permission, will be placed in jeopardy.
And Redcar and Cleveland BC is equally opposed to the ASDA relocation, claiming it will remove South Bank's 'main foodstore anchor' and have a 'profound impact' on the local shopping centre's vitality and viability.Both the borough council and Wm Morrison claim Teesside Development Corporation's decision in November last year to grant planning consent for the ASDA relocation flies in the face of central government planning policy which discourages large-scale out-of-town shopping developments.
The development formed part of the government-funded 'City Challenge' scheme, designed to revitalise East Middlesbrough.
The scheme was considered so important that environment secretary John Gummer had called in the planning application for his own personal consideration.
Consent was finally given after a public inquiry, with Mr Gummer observing that the new superstore would have 'profound benefits' for the majority of shoppers and shop-keepers in Berwick Hills and would provide a 'focus for community life in East Middlesbrough'.
But Wm Morrison, who are contractually bound to build the Berwick Hills superstore, now fear the ASDA relocation will take away a substantial part of its trade.
The application to develop an 8.4 hectare site off Marsh Road, Middlehaven, with a hypermarket to be occupied by ASDA and related non-food retailing units was made by developers, Total Concepts (Haddesley) Ltd, the court heard.
ASDA plans to eventually close down its South Bank superstore, which is in the town centre, and relocate to the new 10,000 square metre edge-of-town store at Middlehaven, Wm Morrison's counsel, John Steel QC, said.
Both WM Morrison and Redcar and Cleveland BC, along with Middlesbrough Borough Council, had strongly opposed the proposal and asked Mr Gummer to 'call in' the scheme for his own consideration, but the minister had refused to intervene.
Planning consent was eventually granted by the Development Corporation on November 22 last year.
Mr Steel argued today that the ASDA relocation would have a 'profound impact' on South Bank's shopping centre, removing its main food store.
The relocation from the town-centre to an out-of-town site also ran 'directly contrary' to government planning policies designed to protect the viability and vitality of existing shopping centres from large-scale out-of-town shopping developments, he told High Court judge, Mr Justice Sedley.
Redcar and Cleveland BC are also mounting a seperate appeal against the Development Corporation's decision and are represented in court by top planning lawyer, Peter Village.
The hearing continues.