Thursday, November 22, 2012

Tesco -The Shepton Mallet Effect

Cllr Ian Tucker
At todays Planning Panel meeting of Bridgwater Town Council it was agreed to object to the proposal to build a Tesco on the Northgate site in Bridgwater. Town Councillor Ian Tucker (Labour,Dunwear) seconded the motion and explains below his studies that have shaped his decision.
"At a full council meeting on the 9th November 2011, I submitted a written question asking, amongst other things, 'can the leader confirm whether any research was  undertaken on the effect large supermarkets have had on other towns before signing the agreement to sell Northgate to Tesco' In response the Leader stated that with regard to the planning process ' this would inevitably involve an element of consideration of the impact on the Town Centre'  He would not go further on this except by saying that 'it would not be appropriate to interfere in the independent regulatory process that the Development Committee would go through'. To this day this question has never been answered although I think we all know the answer, I therefore decided to do a small survey myself.
The Shepton Mallet example
On passing through Shepton Mallet, on the way to the Independence Day event at Frome, it was clear that the town, although only a fraction of the size of Bridgwater
is very much laid out in a similar manner. I therefore decided to undertake a small survey on the effect Tesco has made since moving to the edge of this town.
Tesco is situated in a retail area separated from the town by a busy road, very much the same as is the case with the Northgate site.
The store is the largest unit, roughly 3/4 the size of Bridgwater's Asda, and is at the end of several fairly large retail units. The store consists of about 2/3 rds food
and 1/3 clothing and white goods. The other retail units are occupied by :- Pam Perem Pets - Laura Ashley - New Look - Sports Direct - Boots - Argos
There is a Tesco petrol station on site (as well as a Texaco one just outside) and a costa coffee shop a short walk away. There is free parking for several
hundred cars for a maximum of 2 hours.
town planners inaction......
Detrimental effect on the town
I crossed the busy main road to the tourist information centre which is part of Haskins retail Park. This retail park is comparable to Angel Place in its position to Tesco and the High street, although it is much posher. Screw Fix, DIY, Furniture and carpet outlets all under one roof with no empty units or cheap pound shops.
The staff in the information centre stated that since Tesco and the retail outlets had arrived there had been an increase in their customer numbers.This is probably due to the fact that Tesco attracts visitors going to Wells and beyond who can't help but see the information centre opposite. The Haskins retail park has experienced  a small downturn in foot fall, but I couldn't establish how much although it did not seem very busy at 1.00pm on a Monday.
I then went to the far end of the High street and visited eight different traders on the way back up. Every trader told me that Tesco and the retail units has had a detrimental
effect on the town. Some said that they could only go on because of the local loyalty of customers, others saying that if things get worse they will have to pack up
altogether. The owner of a large haberdashery told me that if he hadn't owned the shop outright he would not have been able to go on.
There is a Martins which contains a post office about half way down, the manager who was busy elsewhere I was told use to manage the one in Bridgwater. The assistant
I spoke to knows Bridgwater and just shrugged his shoulders saying "oh well another town heading for disaster"
Ian Tucker takes his campaign 'on the road'
A main road cuts across the high street , with the cross roads controlled by traffic lights. This compares to the town bridge in Bridgwater and the shops below to Eastover.
This is where the majority of vacant shops are. However I noticed none of them were boarded up and therefore they did not look so bad as those in Bridgwater.
In fact one had very attractive posters depicting life in Victorian times. Probably left over from the TV show some time ago featuring Shepton Mallet.
After seeing the traders I was very concerned that my time had now expired at the Tesco car park, and quickly moved my car to a pay and display park which is run for the Haskins retail centre. The cost of parking here is 90p per hour and it was about half full. The traders had told me originally the Tesco car park was free for 3 hours, others  said 4. Tesco had changed it to 2 hours some time ago, this left hardly any time to do shopping in the high street.
habit of banking land
I then went over to the council offices and met up with Cllr Jeannette Marsh a sitting councillor on Mendip District Council and Mr. Graham Brown who is the clerk to
the Town Council. Both had no doubt that although Tesco promised to bring economic benefits to the town centre the complete opposite has been the case.
They told me the previous smaller Tesco store was situated about a mile away and presented no problem, and although struggling the town centre was managing to
survive. Tesco had some problem at first letting the retail units although Boots and New Look did move from the High street at an early stage. The properties vacated by these
outlets still remain empty. A great deal of anger is still being felt over the move by Boots as it now means people, including the elderly, have to climb up a steep hill and
negotiate a busy road to get medical supplies as there is no other chemist in Shepton.
A short discussion then took place on the way Tesco do business. When applying for planning permission they stated that the store would be mainly food but may include
a small clothing outlet. However the adjacent unit remained empty for a while and was eventually taken over by Tesco and now sells TV's and other electrical goods.
The council apparently put a condition on the old Tesco site that it should not be sold by Tesco for retail use. However after some time it was eventually sold and became a
market garden owned by Dobbies, a company owned by- you've guessed it Tesco ! It was also pointed out that Tesco are in the habit of banking land, after doing the
minimum of build to satisfy planning regs then leaving it for years until trading picks up or land prices increase.
"We just hope your council knows what it's doing'
t wasn't clear where the section 106 money had gone but I was told that there was something like £175K for the town centre. I got the impression that there was some more
money put into the coffers of Mendip District Council, but like so many other places it has been used for various projects which are probably unknown to the public or probably
some of the councillors for that matter. I didn't think it was my place to ask too many questions of a financial nature although the town clerk did say he would email me interesting
information at a later date when he had got it together.
Finally they told me that we have a fight on our hands. In Shepton there had been a great deal of opposition by many in the council and the local residents had formed a pressure
group which managed to get a great deal of publicity, especially when they chained themselves to trees. When I told them it was council prime land that was being sold to Tesco they said " Well we just hope your council knows what it is doing"
Although Shepton is a fraction of the size of Bridgwater its layout is very similar. This very brief report I think proves that when a supermarket does move adjacent to the town centre
it does not regenerate the high street as Tesco and our council claim. The Shepton experience also shows how ruthless Tesco can be, caring nothing for the local community and only interested in money. There is one big concern for them however and that is the opening of a giant Morrisons store soon only five miles away. The fear is that even this
development will suffer and the whole shopping experience will shift towards Wells.

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