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Planning Comments Outrage

By Paul Smith
2nd August, 2013

The comments of Economic Development Officer, Michael Hinks, in his letter regarding a planning application will outrage many local businesses. Mr Hinks asserted that an application for 7 flats and a commercial unit should be turned down on the basis that the commercial unit might be used as a shop. He argued that his department would not be in favour of retail space, which in his opinion, tends to offer “employment which is low skill, low wage, low security”. He goes on to state that his aspiration is to encourage better quality employment.

Mr Hinks suggests that the development should comprise of offices which tend to provide better quality employment. He also suggests, as somewhere in between, veterinary or dental surgeries.

This is the third attempt by the developer to demolish a disused monstrosity of a building in the Culver Road car park behind Fore Street. The developer plans to provide much-needed homes within 7 purpose built flats. If the plans are followed, the result will be pleasing to the eye. There will also be a public walkway to the side of the development which will link Culver road car park to the lower car park, creating an interesting and less gloomy aspect to the area. Each time the application has been submitted the town council has objected for differing reasons.

The idea that retail work is low-skilled is nonsense – unfounded in today’s world. Anyone who has taken on a shop or has started from new will be able to demonstrate the skills and traits of leading business people.  It is a complex world of managing cash-flow while matching a shop’s supplies with an often estimated demand. Not forgetting that most shops are in competition with other similar shops in the area. Sustaining a competitive advantage, especially with the larger supermarkets, takes considerable business knowledge.

Shop workers need to understand complex cash registers and card handling devices. They are often required to create window displays and shelf displays that not only look nice, but displays that convert browsing customers to sales. For shops to succeed in our current economic climate shop workers must display impeccable customer focus and go the extra mile. A shop worker can make or break a shop’s image. Shop work is anything but low-skilled.

Shops also employee skills in the wider field. Local web developers, the trades, advertisers and commodity service providers all prosper thanks to the retail sector.    

Mr Hinks talks of low-pay in the retail sector. Low in comparison to what? Granted shop workers earn less than doctors, mechanics, IT technicians and other professions or trades. When compared to sectors that don’t require many years of acquiring qualifications or apprenticeships, shop worker wages cannot be described as low.

Mr Hinks wants office space. Companies that might want to set up office in Saltash might do so for several reasons. One good reason for Saltash, unlike central Plymouth or other major cities, is that a company might be able to attract employees for less pay. If they cannot do so, then what does Saltash have that more central locations cannot offer? Offices get used for many things and call centres are always in need of cheap and cheerful labour due to their high employee churn rate.

Aside from all this, we are talking about land that is just off of Fore Street. Ask anyone what sort of commercial activities they would expect to see in Fore Street, in any town, and most will agree that retail is the norm.

Mr Hinks suggests that there is indication from some estate agents (he didn’t name them) that office space is in demand. Strange that this demand hasn’t yet struck deals with any of the umpteen empty shops in Saltash.  

Mr Hinks should apologise for his unwelcome comments and keep his opinions to himself. As a regional economic development officer, we should expect a great deal more competence in his ruling on commercial planning applications.  

Link to Mr Hinks' letter:

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