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Press release: A smaller Tesco on Mill Road? Why it won’t happen

Press release, 5 May 2008

We understand that one of Tesco’s PR representatives is currently claiming that Tesco have decided to open a store on the old Wilco site on Mill Road without the extension that they have spent almost 2 years planning and arguing for. (Their proposed extension was refused by the council in March and is currently the subject of an appeal by Tesco to the Planning Inspectorate.)

We have been told that Tesco have drawn up new plans that now enable them to bypass the planning process and open without the proposed extension – despite the fact that they previously told the council planners that this would be impossible, as the documentation sent to the Planning Inspectorate confirms.

There are a few problems with Tesco’s claim. Even if they were able to operate a profitable store despite a reduction in the proposed shop floor of nearly 40% – which would be the amount of the existing store taken up by their “behind the scenes” stock storage, waste storage, office, staff facilities, bakery, etc – they would still face the following obstacles:

1. They do not have planning permission to install their proposed refrigeration and air conditioning equipment

Even if they were somehow able to open a profitable store without the proposed extension, despite what they told the council, they still need planning permission for the installation of the necessary refrigeration and air conditioning plant. Planning permission for this equipment formed part of the application that the council rejected in March. So, they do not have permission to install the equipment that they have told the council they need in order to open the store.

Tesco would therefore have to make another planning application to the council for the installation of this noisy equipment, equipment that would be right next to local homes and other local businesses and which would run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Even Tesco’s own, last-minute report said that this equipment does not meet Local Authority standards, and there are other serious problems with it that would make its approval unlikely.

Of course, any application to install this noisy, sub-standard equipment in a residential area would be strongly contested by local people, as was the previous application.

2. They cannot deliver to the site by lorry

Tesco say that they want to make 30 deliveries per week, many in lorries more than 10 metres long and for up to 40 minutes at a time. Any occupants of this particular site are banned from delivering on the street, because of the existing planning conditions placed on the building.

So, they cannot block Mill Road at least 30 times a week for up to 40 minutes at a time – which will be a relief to anyone who has to drive or take a bus down Mill Road, or who relies on the emergency services being able to get down it.

Because of the local one-way system, they cannot deliver to the back of the site by lorry unless the Local Authority makes some changes to Sedgwick Street. As we have said from the start, the changes that Tesco want – which would involve driving 10 metre lorries the “wrong” way down a one-way street, as well as the removal of some on-street parking so that they can reverse their lorries – are dangerous and will make life harder for anyone (local residents, local businesses, shoppers) who needs to park in the area. An application to take away parking and to drive lorries into the one way system’s oncoming traffic would obviously be strongly contested by local people.

So, Tesco cannot deliver to the store by lorry. They could, presumably, decide to make their deliveries to the store by small van – although this would require them to make far more than the 30 deliveries per week they say they will make if they can use lorries – but this is the only way they could legally get goods into the store. As anyone who has ever worked in this type of store knows, this isn’t how they operate

3. They do not have a license to sell alcohol

Stores like this rely heavily on alcohol sales. We assume that if Tesco were able to open a store with a 40% smaller shop floor than the one they wanted, then they would be particularly dependent on alcohol sales in order to be profitable.

This is big problem for them. The police have asked the council to extend its Cumulative Impact Policy to Mill Road. This would mean that the council would have a presumption that any new applications for alcohol licences on Mill Road would be refused, unless the applicants could make a case for allowing one in particular instances.

Given both the well-known street drinking problems in the area and huge local opposition, we wonder whether the council will really want to make an exception to its policy and give an alcohol licence on Mill Road to the company that brought Britain the 22p can of lager.

So, apparently, Tesco are planning to open a store almost 40% smaller than the one that they planned on, with no air conditioning, no refrigeration, no alcohol licence and to which they will only be able to deliver by small van. Even one of these obstacles would make the opening of a store very unlikely. Together, they mean that it is not even remotely viable.

So why are Tesco saying this?

We assume that these supposedly new plans are different from the “secret plans” Tesco’s PR representatives announced immediately after Tesco’s embarrassing defeat in early March, which also apparently enabled them to bypass the planning process and open without the extension – although since these first “secret plans” apparently allowed them to open without the extension, we are surprised that they needed to announce the existence of a new set of plans now.

We find the timing of this announcement interesting, and not just in relation to the local elections. Tesco will now have received copies of all the evidence submitted to the Planning Inspectorate by local groups and local residents. They will have seen that both local and national planning guidance clearly confirm the council’s decision to refuse the plans as the correct one. As a result, and since it is – as Tesco themselves pointed out – a decision that has to be made on the basis of the planning guidance and not who can shout the loudest, they clearly expect to lose their appeal.

Tesco have spent almost two years and, we assume, a lot of money on their existing plans for this site. They have said that the proposed Mill Road store would not be viable without an extension. When the council turned these plans down, they pursued an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, asking for the longest, most complex form of appeal process, a public inquiry. Tesco have obviously failed to undertake due diligence when purchasing the lease for this property and should not be surprised to incur losses on what is clearly an unsuitable site.

If they were confident in their case they would not now be attempting to sidestep the appeal process that they themselves called for. Tesco are likely to lose this appeal, and their actions show that they know it.

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