|Dave Chapple of Bridgwater Forward puts Tesco|
reps on the spot with questions of 'morality'
The event, held at Bridgwater Forward’s request, sought to further scrutinize both Tesco and Sedgemoor District Council over their intention to build a massive superstore on the site of the much-missed Sedgemoor Splash, after an earlier public consultation was met with widespread dissatisfaction.After Town Mayor Pat Parker (Labour,Westover) greeted the attendees, focus shifted to Tesco’s representatives, Emma Heesom (Corporate Affairs), James Harrison (Development Executive), Gareth Hooper (Planning) and Julian Clark (Transport), who sat alongside Sedgemoor’s main representative, Corporate Director Doug Bamsey. Although both Council Leader Cllr Duncan McGinty (Con, East Polden) and Chief Executive Kerry Rickards were also present, they kept a low profile.
Heesom began by arguing the case for the Tesco development – a new store would improve retail choice in Bridgwater, along with providing 260 new jobs, 700 car parking spaces and an ‘enhanced’ Brewery Field. Tesco had, she said, carried out a ‘comprehensive engagement strategy’ with local residents and traders, including displays in Angel Place, and had given presentations to several local organisations including political parties. Of the 1200 people who had attended their consultation exercises, 20% completed feedback forms, of which 62% were positive about the development proposals.The Tesco reps went on to describe how their proposals had been amended after feedback from the public – they had introduced a short-stay car-park, changed the store design to leave 90% of the brewery field intact, reduced the size of the service yard, and reduced the length of the store canopy to ensure views of the spire of St Mary’s church weren’t obstructed.
The meeting then turned to written questions. Gaynor Brown asked if SDC would set up a Local Planning Forum to independently assess the Tesco application – Doug Bamsey said it wouldn’t, but that any application would be subject to ‘robust’ scrutiny courtesy of Council planning committees. Ms Brown responded that she thought SDC should follow various other Councils that have established Local Planning Forums to combat a public perception that the existing scrutiny processes weren’t up to scratch.
scepticalJohn Hesketh, a local trader, asked what Tesco would do to regenerate the town. He added that Bridgwater was very sceptical about supermarkets claiming their arrival would revitalise flagging areas since Asda spectacularly failed to do this for Eastover.
|SDC's Doug Bamsey|
Hooper replied by citing a Sedgemoor retail study that claimed £56,000,000 worth of expenditure was ‘leaking’ out of Bridgwater every year, largely caused by people shopping outside of town for non-food goods. Since the proposed Tesco store has large areas dedicated to non-food retailing, Hooper suggested, Tescos would be part of the solution.Bridgwater Forward’s own Glen Burrows made a common-sense interjection to the effect that a town with as many supermarkets as Bridgwater can’t exactly be losing shoppers through a lack of supermarkets.
Bob Cudlipp asked whether an environmental impact study would be carried out on the site of the proposed store, particularly on the 40-50 trees with Tree Preservation Orders – SDC had previously said one wouldn’t be necessary.
dissatisfactionHooper – informal studies had been carried out, but not official Environmental Impact Assessments. Mr Cudlipp expressed his dissatisfaction.
Peter Smith asked how many tons of spoil would be removed from the site during the store construction, how many lorry journeys would be required to remove it all, and how many lights would be used in the service area. He also asked if there was any truth in the rumour that Tescos owned the site currently occupied by Sanders Garden World and were planning to open another store there.Harrison – said Tesco had no interest in building a store at the Sanders site and since a planning application for a Bridgwater store wouldn’t be submitted until late April, it was too early to give specific figures about spoil etc.
There was then a disagreement between Mr Smith and Alan Hurford the Town Clerk, with the former accusing the latter of editing his written question.
confusionPatricia Walsh expressed confusion about the mixed messages put out about the size of the canopy on the proposed store, and asked how SDC could agree to proposals that would obstruct the view of St Mary’s. Also, why were leisure facilities not being developed in line with the LDF?
Bamsey (SDC) didn’t really answer the question, and instead talked about the importance of town centre linkage and how the Tesco development adhered to the principles laid down in Sedgemoor’s Core Development Strategy.Harrison (Tesco) admitted there had been confusion over the height of the proposed store. Suggestions that it would be 12 metres high were wrong – at its highest point, the store would be 8.9m high, 7.9m at the eaves, 5m at the entrance canopy. He claimed that assuring the continued visibility of the St Mary’s spire had been a central concern during the design process.
Tricia went on to express concern at the traffic disruption caused by delivery lorries using the store service yard, and the effect this would have on a residential care facility for the mentally and physically disabled.Julian Clark (Tesco) – the service area would be big enough to allow 2 lorries to deliver at once, with room for a third lorry to wait if necessary.
Tricia also complained that her question had been heavily edited, and argued for the Tesco store to be pushed back on to land owned by Somerset County Council, thereby leaving the Brewery Field intact. Our green spaces are precious and needed preserving, and Tescos is a major culprit in this respect.
medievalBridgwater Forward co-chair Sally Jones expressed concern at the effect increased Tesco traffic would have on the town’s medieval road network, and called for the police to be consulted in this regard.
|Sally Jones-'Traffic impact'|
Julian Clark said there will be proposals to mitigate these effects at a later date. Hooper added that the police are a statutory consultee, and would be given chance to comment on the proposals.Nick Gibson asked what type of pile-driving would be used on the Tesco site – the Tesco reps replied that that they didn’t know at this stage.
Martin Acland asked what was going to go into the small retail units included in the Tesco proposals – if Tescos sell everything, short of funeral directors there isn’t much that could possibly go there. Just more empty units in Bridgwater?Harrison – units wouldn’t price anyone out of the market, encouraging all kinds of suppliers.
Bridgwater Forward co-chair Dave Chapple asked the fundamental question - what benefit will Tescos bring to the town of Bridgwater? Will there be any? Or will it just make profits for its shareholders. Both Tescos and SDC are ignorant of Bridgwater’s heritage, and, with the demolition of the Splash and the loss of the Brewery Field, ensuring that more will be lost.Harrison – Tescos offer choice, and a competitive environment for consumers. Living in Worcestershire, admitted that he had no knowledge of the history of the town or the site in question. He ‘hoped’ that the store would create jobs.
|Cllr Julian Taylor "How|
will roads cope?"
Cllr Julian Taylor (Labour,Eastover) – how will local roads cope with Tesco traffic on top of the already-considerable increase expected as a result of EDF’s new development at Hinkley Point?Hooper said Tesco would be looking at this issue in conjunction with Somerset County Council.
Glen Burrows tackled the jobs issue – how many would be created? In May 2010 they said 430, currently the figure stands at 260. Would this go any lower? Supermarkets always sold themselves to local areas based on the numbers of jobs produced, but research repeatedly shows that these are mostly filled by people put out of work elsewhere by a superstore’s arrival. How many jobs would be full-time? How many would be displaced from elsewhere? How many would be filled by existing Tescos employees brought in from elsewhere? How many will be still be there in 5 years, given the growing use of automated checkouts? More fundamentally, n 2006, the Hepher-Dixon report suggested that there was no more scope for food retail space in Bridgwater – what is the company’s reponse?
Heesom – as it stands, 260 jobs would be created. Two thirds of the workforce would be part-time, a third full-time.Alec Western expressed confusion – Tesco’s arrival was sure to lead to job losses elsewhere in the local economy, so taking this into account, how many jobs would Tesco actually create? Any? Also, is it true that Tesco was the only bidder for the Northgate site?
Bamsey – of 20 parties to initially express interest, only 3 took this further, with 2 of these eventually pulling out, leaving Tesco.Roger Smith (Angel Place manager) asked about the linkage to the town centre, and for clarification as to whether these extra retailers could be 'current' retailers? He also wanted to know if the development in fact had no obligation under the 106 agreement to provide these linkages?
James Harrison (Tesco) pointed to the extra 30 minute parking spaces added but also said he couldn't make the commitment that the new retail units wouldn’t be occupied by existing town-centre retailers. Tesco would discuss issues regarding section 106 with the planning authority.
Rosie Gibson suggested that one of these units could be used for a new town post office, to which Town Clerk Alan Hurford responded that discussions had taken place which would see a permanent Post Office return to the town by June.
The meeting concluded with residents of Anson Way expressing concerns at the effect the Tesco development would have to their properties, with others in the crowd voicing their support. The Mayor called for quiet, but one resident was heard to angrily reply ‘it’s all very well telling us to shut up but this is our home!’
Shortly after, the Mayor brought the session to a close. Dave Chapple thanked the Town Council for agreeing to Bridgwater Forward’s proposal to hold the special meeting, and the assembled residents spontaneously applauded. The Mayor then went on to thank the representatives from Tesco and Sedgemoor for attending, to a distinctly cooler reception. Glen Burrows called for an impromptu show of hands as to whether those present were for or against the Tesco bid, with those against winning decisively. This was backed up by a poll of residents at the meeting taken by Pete Hill, an Open University Student conducting research into the impact of supermarkets on Town Centres – Hill recorded 9 attendees in favour of a Tescos, 72 against, with 16 undecided.
Ultimately, the meeting made it abundantly clear that people in Bridgwater remain, at best, hugely sceptical about the prospect of another supermarket setting up in the town, let alone a 60,000 square-foot town-centre superstore being built on an increasingly rare piece of publically-owned green space. The Tesco representatives weren’t able to satisfactorily answer a lot of the questions posed to them by residents, frequently retreating behind default responses to the effect that it was too early in the process to know specific details about the potential store and its construction, or that the development was proceeding according to council guidelines.
More worrying was the way in which they discussed their proposals as if they’d been accepted, just requiring a bit of tinkering here and there to make them a done deal. Bridgwater Forward members and others were able to show that Tesco was making the economic benefits of a new town-centre supermarket sound significantly rosier than was likely to be the case – jobs would be lost as well as created etc. They also raised the more fundamental question that both Tesco and SDC reps were unwilling to answer, namely why proposals for a new supermarket were being considered in a town in which several surveys, reports, and general public opinion have clearly and consistently shown people don’t want one.
Report by Simon Hann