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Prescott accused of failing to read evidence for store appeal

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The deputy prime minister has been accused of not understanding or even reading evidence concerning plans for a new retail development in Manchester.

Furniture giant IKEA has claimed that John Prescott ignored planning advice when deciding the future of plans for a new outlet.

The outburst by the firm's lawyers came at a High Court hearing last week, initiated by IKEA after Prescott refused planning permission for the Stockport store in August.

It was the second time Prescott had rejected the application, despite support for the scheme from Stockport Council and the first of two inspectors who considered the scheme on the cabinet minister's behalf.

Last Friday, Justice Elias reserved his decision on the case, and will give his judgment at a later date, probably before Easter.

The hearing followed Prescott's first decision to refuse the scheme, which was quashed by the same court as 'legally flawed' in February 2003. In the wake of that ruling, the minister instructed a second inspector to conduct a fresh inquiry, and that inspector recommended refusal of the scheme.

IKEA's counsel, Christopher Katkowski, said:

'If nothing else, IKEA is entitled to be able to discern from the decision letter that the deputy prime minister has both understood IKEA's evidence and has grappled with it in reaching his decision to refuse the proposals.

'Unfortunately, at every twist and turn in the decision, there is well-founded cause for concern that the deputy prime minister and second inspector failed to deal with IKEA's evidence in reaching their conclusions and understanding it in the first place.' He continued: 'To compound matters, the deputy prime minister does not address the first inspector's favourable conclusions at all. IKEA could be forgiven for wondering quite what the point was of the original inquiry and the first inspector's report.' In response, Nathalie Lieven, Prescott's counsel, argued that the minister had thought the proposed £30 million store was 'too large' to be built in Stockport.

She said: 'Having reached his conclusion, it is plain that the development should be located in a centre that serves a wide catchment area, which Stockport does not.' Throughout, the proposal has been backed by Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, which sees the IKEA store as a central part of its regeneration plans, and worth about 600 jobs to the area.

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