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Dismay as Tesco finally comes to town

John Freeman
An photograph of the artist's impression of Lancaster's new Travelodge, courtesy of Tim Hamilton-Cox.When local businesses go under now that Tesco have finally got their way and will open a Metro store in Lancaster, remember it was Councillor Roger Sherlock who proposed approving their plans - united with fellow Labour councillors and Conservative and Liberal Democrat colleagues at this week's Planning Committee.

Despite the evidence presented that granting Tesco permission for a Metro store on the ground floor of the new Travelodge in Spring Garden Street, due to open next month, would cause traffic problems and affect independent traders, Sherlock proposed accepting the plans, which were then backed by Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors on the Council's Planning committee.

Green and the Morecambe Bay Independents councillors voted against the plans on Monday.

Sherlock, a councillor for Skerton West Ward, even went so far as to dismiss traffic concerns - Tesco might deliver to their store up to 14 times a day - with today's Lancaster Guardian reporting him claiming this wouldn't be a problem, because only buses and taxis used Spring Garden Street.

His views have already angered Guardian readers. "A Tesco Express opened on a busy main road through a village I know," says one in an online comment on the web version of the news story. "They promised they wouldn't deliver at peak times. They promised they wouldn't use large lorries to make the deliveries. They made promises on opening hours so as not to affect other businesses.

"They lied on every single one of those and the subsequent traffic chaos was astonishing... Expect the City Centre to seize up on a more regular and spectacular basis from now on."

"Tesco has evolved in the last 30 years from plucky underdog to corporate bully," feels Tim Hamilton-Cox, a local cyclist who presented detailed objections to the Planning Committee. "I am in favour of a mixed economy – both in terms of ownership and scale: but Tesco has nearly a third of the UK grocery market already and is now seeking to hoover up convenience store sales with its Express format.

"The Tesco Express on King Street could have a turnover of £3.5m, based on data supplied by White Young Green to the council. According to a study by Tesco itself, a third of an Express store’s turnover comes from local, independent stores. Even if it is only £1.2m (and it could well be a lot more), that is a lot of turnover to lose between the last independent greengrocer; the city centre florist; food stalls in the market; and the newsagents and convenience stores in and around the city centre.

"An impact of this scale could undermine the vitality and viability of the independent sector in the city centre and on its fringes," he feels. "Local traders in Leicester city centre have recently seen for themselves the damaging impact of a new Express store in their midst."

The officers’ report presented to the Planning Committee did not discuss the retail impact of Tesco's potential arrival, presumably because planning policy rightly favours directing retail developments to town centre sites. "Few have objected to the redevelopment of the cinema site and the additional retail units if there’s a demand for them," Tim notes. "But other councils (for example in Darlington and Barnet) have resisted Tesco Express stores on the basis of the planning policy principle of protecting the vitality and viability of their own town centres."

Regardless of councillors position on Tesco in principle, support for independent traders was not among the reasons why their application has been slated for refusal by officers in the past.

These reasons have concerned highways congestion, highways safety and cycling infrastructure, but the report councillors on Monday that led to permission being granted failed to discuss many of these issues, becuase, Tim feels, misleading representations from the developer prompted a change of tack.

Sadly, councillors decided not to defer a decision in order to allow a full analysis of the issues to be presented before a final decision was made. Those protesting at the plan feel the developer should have been made to submit a new highway safety audit, a Transport Assessment and an Air Quality Assessment and note that Tescos won't be the only store taking deliveries at the new premises.

Despite presented evidence and reports from other Councils on how the supermarket chain have behaved when a store opens, councillors voted in favour of the plan and Tesco will be coming to town very soon.

Tescopoly: Every Little Hurts