Tesco Stores kindly wrote to me as one of their future neighbours, outlining the introduction of an Express store on the former Silver Wok site in Brighton Road, Horsham.
Great, you may think, they are being informative, considerate and neighbourly.
None of it! The second paragraph of the letter from Simon Petar (Tesco Stores Ltd, corporate affairs manager) makes it perfectly clear that there is no point in local residents raising any objections to the proposal.
“As the premises were most recently used as a restaurant we do not require planning permission for a change of use to introduce a Tesco Express.”
In other words, Tesco has flexed its corporate muscle and made what it considers to be a decision for the greater good of the neighbourhood, without any reference to local residents.
Unless perhaps if any members of the Tesco board, their accountants or majority shareholders happen to live near by?
Now, please don’t misunderstand me and label me a ‘NIMBY’. I have long thought that the property in question is an eye-sore, inappropriate to the area and ripe for redevelopment or improvement.
However, do we really need a Tesco Express to achieve this and, more importantly, at all?
The letter largely consists of weak and vacuous assurances that the impact on the immediate area will be slight and implies that our neighbourhood and lives will flourish under the patronage of Tesco Stores Ltd. I’m afraid I beg to differ.
It is conceded that planning permission will be required for some ‘minor alterations’, including changes to the front elevation and consent for signage.
However, I can find few examples of Tesco stores blending with the local architecture and street scenes. Surely part of their raison d’être is to stand out? In an area dominated by late 19th century and early 20th century residential properties we’ll be jumping from one eye-sore to another.
The letter claims that most customers ‘come from within 500 metres of the store, many of whom walk or cycle’.
What evidence does Tesco have for this? I for one was not canvassed by them to see if I would use the store or how I would get there, and I live within this perimeter distance.
Isn’t the real reason they chose this site actually because it sits on a main route into and out of Horsham, so they hope to catch commuter traffic at the beginning and end of each day?
The local community don’t need a new corner shop as we’ve already got one in St Leonards Road, and other shops in nearby streets. Obviously they won’t be there much longer once squeezed out by Tesco.
This also raises the question of increased traffic issues. Brighton Road is a busy main route into Horsham and St Leonards Road a narrow town centre relief road. With vehicles pulling in and out of the site from early morning to late at night there is an increased likelihood of traffic congestion, conflict, noise and pollution.
In deed the letter trumpets the fact that as a small store we will also have ‘the added benefit of being open longer on Sundays’.
Added to this will be the ‘typically… three deliveries a day’.
None of this is of benefit to the Tesco neighbours. We won’t even benefit from a bit of peace and quiet on a Sunday!
There will undoubtedly be a considerable increase in traffic experienced in and around this site, when compared to the previous occupants.
The letter also seeks to reassure that ‘the presence of our staff and customers acts as a deterrent to anti-social behaviour’.
However, as the area does not currently suffer from anti-social behaviour the implication must be that the presence of Tesco attracts it.
I have of course only addressed some of the issues immediate to the neighbourhood that this Tesco proposal raises.
Actually, it’s somewhat of a misnomer to call it a proposal; Tesco wouldn’t be writing to their neighbours if it wasn’t a done deal already!
I shall leave it for others to debate the wider questions; should we allow big multi-nationals to squeeze out local independent competition?
Do we want to encourage ‘out of town’ retail development to the possible detriment of the town centre? Could the site not be put to better alternative use?
Shouldn’t such a major change of use and redevelopment be subject to greater scrutiny under planning regulations?
Brighton Road, Horsham