BLACKBURN MP Jack Straw has raised concerns over a developer’s actions in seeking to expand Whitebirk retail park.

Speaking in Parliament, the MP told Communities Secretary Eric Pickles that over a number of years, Peel Holdings had accrued a series of minor changes to the small retail park with a view to forcing through a £16million expansion scheme.

Mr Straw said he feared the development of Whitebirk retail park, on the Blackburn-Hyndburn boundary, would hit small businesses and town centre traders.

In response, Mr Pickles said he was aware of the loophole in planning regulations, but insisted councils had the power to turn down applications where developers had successfully applied for a lawful development certificate after accruing some minor planning changes.

At the moment only items such as DIY products or bulky goods can be sold at Whitebirk.

But Peel, headed by Rossendale-born John Whittaker, want to bring in food and fashion retailers, converting it to a fully-fledged out-of-town retail park.

Mr Straw said that ‘on the face of things’ it seemed as though Peel was trying to ‘get around’ the planning inspectorate’s decision to reject a similar scheme three years ago.

He asked Mr Pickles: “Are you aware that some developers, including Peel Holdings in respect of their small retail park at Whitebirk in between Blackburn and Hyndburn, are using a series of minor planning permissions that they have gained over the years, of minor modifications to existing planning permissions, to aggregate those and then claim they are entitled to a lawful development certificate, justifying a major change in use?

“Would you accept that this practice would appear to undermine your entirely commendable approach to strengthening high streets?”

Mr Pickles replied: “A local authority can take into consideration the cumulative effect of a larger plot in looking at these individual applications.”

A Peel spokesman said: “Peel is keen to make improvements to the appearance, accessibility and range of retailers at Whitebirk retail park.

“The approach adopted is not unusual among retail park owners, and in the case of Whitebirk will see delivery of £16million of investment, over 250 new jobs and a retail facility within Hyndburn, which will mean residents of the borough will have a genuine local alternative to retail parks in areas such as Preston and Bolton.

“The proposals have extensive public support. This scheme will deliver significant investment in an economic climate which still remains difficult.”