Secretary: Ms G Burrows, 1 Blake Place, Bridgwater, TA6 5AU
Group Corporate Responsibility Team
New Tesco House
New Tesco House
9th November 2011
Proposed Tesco Development, Northgate, Bridgwater, Somerset
I write on behalf of a group of people who came together originally to try to persuade our local authority, Sedgemoor District Council, not to demolish our swimming pool, which was located on the Northgate site.
Our attempt failed, the pool was quickly demolished, and we then discovered that the authority was planning to sell to Tesco plc, not only the original swimming pool site, but the whole of the Northgate site, including a green open space known as “The Brewery Field”. This is in spite of the Council’s own policy of not building on green sites such as this, and the fact that your plans clearly show that you do not need the whole site for your store development and that the pool could either have been retained or replaced on site.
Let me tell you about the Brewery Field. It occupies an area which provides open and unobstructed views to and from the historic docks and the town centre. It provides a playing field, children’s play-ground, dog-walking area, somewhere for youngsters to let off steam, as well as being a much needed and much loved “green lung” in the town centre. The Brewery Field is part of our town centre heritage, and Bridgwater people are fiercely proud of their history and their town. You probably cannot begin to imagine how angry local people are at the prospect of this open space moving into private hands, being developed, and to historic views being blocked by a building of 10 metres high or more, covering about 90,000 square feet.
Since Bridgwater already has 8 supermarkets, the anger and apprehension about the chosen site is supplemented by opposition to yet another supermarket which, while it might enhance Tesco plc’s profits, will mean the end of many of our town centre small traders, and the death of our high street. We are, of course, not convinced by claims that Tesco will provide additional jobs, since there will obviously be job losses in existing outlets. We note that no evidence has been provided to date of the net effect of your proposed development in this regard.
However, the real reason I am writing is to convey to you our surprise and concern at the pre-application “consultation” and exhibition carried out on your behalf in Bridgwater’s Angel Place Shopping Centre, on Friday 14th and Saturday 15th October 2011.
Many of your representatives at the event appeared to know very little, either about Bridgwater or your proposed development, and were unable to answer basic questions about the exact size of the store and associated buildings, opening hours, traffic, or sustainable energy policies, for example. For instance, one person received 4 different answers, ranging from 6 metres to over 10 metres, when asking about the height of the building. These are questions local people have been asking for almost a year now, and they require and deserve accurate answers if they are to be able to make an informed judgement and hence comment accordingly on the current pre-application consultation exercise.
Some people were given two different answers to the same question asked of two different representatives. Some asked questions and received no answers, but were told to put their questions in writing. Some have yet to receive any reply.
The only plans on display were the site layout and a bird’s eye view of the proposed development. Why weren’t plans showing the following information also made available?
- The existing site layout with the proposed site layout superimposed on top, for comparison.
- The effect on views across the site between the Docks and the town centre.
- Before and after cross sections through the site and buildings extending to the Docks, Blacklands, Mount Street and Northgate.
- Before and after elevations of the existing and proposed buildings showing the respective heights of the existing and proposed buildings.
- Existing and proposed ground levels through the site and extending to the Docks, Blacklands, Mount Street and Northgate.
- All existing trees, clearly identifying between those that would be felled and those that would be retained, as well as any trees to be planted.
Without this information being made available, it is impossible to make an informed judgment on what is being proposed and how this will affect the local environment. Please can you therefore confirm when, how and where this information will be made available and how this will be publicised, so that the public can then respond to the current pre-application consultation exercise on a fully informed basis?
Please can you also mark out on the ground the extent of the proposed buildings where these intrude into the Brewery Field, along with the extent of the remaining grass area and the proposed height of the store, so that the full impact of the proposed development can be judged on the ground and the public will therefore be able to respond to the current pre-application consultation exercise on a fully informed basis?
Please can you confirm who will own whatever would remain of the Brewery Field after the store had been built and what guarantees would be in place to ensure this would always remain publically available? On 14th October, your architect said it would be handed back to Sedgemoor DC. On 15th October, one of your representatives said Tesco plc will retain ownership and maintenance.
Please can you confirm the role and function of the “Further feedback form” as it has been said by your representatives that this was only meant to be used by staff manning the exhibition, despite the form clearly stating it was meant to be the means by which the public could record any detailed issues they wished to raise?
Please can you confirm that retail, traffic and environmental impact assessments will all accompany any subsequent planning application as none of these assessments were available as part of the pre-application consultation exercise.
Given all the above circumstances, the current pre-application consultation exercise has clearly, thus far, failed to meet the standards required for what would be a major planning application. In short, the public have been given incomplete, insufficient, conflicting and even misleading information on the form, nature, scale and potential impact of the proposed development on the local environment and the local economy. Hence the public have not yet been provided with sufficient information on which to make an informed judgement on what is being proposed. The format in which consultation responses can be made has also been confused and misleading as has the deadline by which such consultation responses should be returned. Hence the current pre-application consultation exercise conducted to date has been deeply flawed. Hopefully your company will wish to put these matters right.
I enclose a letter which has been sent to our Town Council, asking them to organise a proper public debate with your company, where the concerns expressed in this letter can be aired properly. I hope you will respond positively to this suggestion as well as providing answers to the issues raised in this letter.
Finally, please note that I have written separately to Melanie Wellman, Sedgemoor’s Monitoring Officer, requesting copies of the following documents under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act and/or the Environmental Information Regulations, given that in response to many of the questions raised with your representatives, members of the public were told to refer to Sedgemoor DC as the major owner of the Northgate site. No doubt you will wish to act constructively if your company is approached by Sedgemoor concerning the release of any of this information, in the interests of openness and transparency.
- Development Agreement signed by Tesco, Sedgemoor DC and Somerset CC governing the sale and development of the Northgate site.
- The final bid and associated documents submitted by Tesco for the Northgate site.
- The full Evaluation of Tesco’s final bid and associated documents summarised in Appendix 2 to the report to Sedgemoor’s Executive and Full council on 19th and 28 January 2011 respectively.
- Any documents, including letters, emails, notes of meetings and telephone conversations, recording whether Tesco would have been agreeable to the Splash pool and leisure centre being retained or replaced on the Northgate site. (We understand from a number of separate sources that Tesco confirmed accordingly to Sedgemoor’s Officers, but were told by them that this was not what the Council wanted).
I look forward to hearing from you.
Ms G Burrows
Secretary, Bridgwater Forward
Steve Atkinson, Group Manager Development Management, Sedgemoor DC
Stuart Martin, Principal Planner, Sedgemoor DC
Melanie Wellman, Monitoring Officer, Sedgemoor DC
Cllrs Kathy Pearce and Brian Smedley, Ward Members, Sedgemoor DC
Alan Hurford, Town Clerk, Bridgwater Town Council
Footnote: Bridgwater Forward was formed following Sedgemoor District Council’s decision to close the Splash swimming pool in Bridgwater Town Centre before a replacement swimming pool was provided, as Sedgemoor promised. It believed a replacement swimming pool should be provided in Bridgwater Town Centre and campaigns for policies to be adopted that will help the future vitality and viability of Bridgwater Town Centre and the future health and wellbeing of the local community as a whole.