John Prescott last week nodded through the final element in plans to increase the size of Britain's biggest out-of-town development, the MetroCentre near Gateshead, by 10%. The expansion involves a new department store, a further 27 shops and more than 1,100 car parking spaces. In exchange for DETR approval, Whitehall has extracted a commitment from MetroCentre's owner, property company Liberty, to contribute towards better train links with the huge shopping centre.
Friends of the Earth said: 'This is a major U-turn. The MetroCentre decision effectively gives landlords the green light for expansion. We will do everything we can to stop this happening again'.
The MetroCentre decision will be scrutinised carefully by local authorities around the country worried about the impact of out-of-town developments on town and city centres. The decision comes as a planning report for a major retail wharehouse development next to Manchester's Trafford Centre awaits Mr Prescott's judgment. A senior property source said: 'After the MetroCentre decision it is difficult to see how he can turn this down'. Property group Chelsfield is also holding discussions with Dudley MBC over plans to expand Merry Hill in the west midlands.