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Superstores: Is this the solution? PDF Print E-mail
Supermarket Debate
Written by Andrew Warmington   
Tuesday, 31 January 2012 17:10

We can’t have a new superstore AND preserve the High Street, can we? Actually we can. Here’s how

Throughout the superstore debate, those for and against an out of town superstore (OOTS) have made one assumption: we can’t have a superstore within Ledbury because there simply isn’t a suitable place for one. Local architect Anthony Peake thinks otherwise. His proposal could actually be the solution to the whole problem, one that could be acceptable to nearly everyone.

Anthony knows a bit about this. He designed, among many other things, a giant out of town store for John Lewis off the M40 near High Wycombe. When Tesco applied for planning permission for an OOTS off Leadon Way, they dismissed the option of redeveloping their current site on Orchard Lane. Not only did Anthony think that this could be done, he has drawn up a plan.


The current Tesco store – which we can all agree is very far from ideal – covers a footprint of about 22,150 sq. ft, with 167 customer car parking spaces. It sits at the bottom of a hole excavated below street level, far back from the Homend and doing nothing whatsoever to complement the High Street.

Anthony’s plan calls for this to be replaced by a bigger, better store built at street level and fronting the Homend. This would be built on top of a giant concrete slab on columns, above the car park. In all, it could cover up to 38,750 sq. ft., with about 28,000 sq. ft. of net selling space, about 85% as much as it proposed on Leadon Way.

(It should be noted that this figure is an 'up to' figure. Any planning application would have to fit with the retail need of Ledbury and other planning requirements. LOTS would not want a new supermarket to be quite this large. The point is that Tesco CAN redevelop their current site and absorb all the projected retail growth in Ledbury to 2026.)

There would be 222 customer car parking spaces in place of the current 167, plus 20 for staff. This is just shy of the usual formula of one for every 150 sq. ft of selling space but plenty for a store that would draw many customers on foot or public transport. Access from the car park below could be by lift, stairways or revelatory.

As well as being bigger and able to offer a wider range of goods than the current store, this proposed store has a number of important advantages. Most important of all is its location: on the High Street and part of it, with a frontage close to the first shops in the High Street and a front door on the corner of Orchard Lane and the Homend. It means that our supermarkets remain in the right place.

Secondly, it could be much more attractive, giving visitors a much better first impression of Ledbury. What Tesco came up with in Ludlow – once their plans for a bog standard OOTS were rejected – gives you a model of how a supermarket building does not have to be ugly and dull and can even complement a lovely old town, visually and practically.

Third, instead of the current, hopelessly inadequate delivery area where all goods have to be unloaded by lorries with flaps that crash down and a compactor makes added noise, Anthony proposes a docking bay deeper down for two articulated lorries and two lifts, still shielded by the wall to Robinson Meadow. This will reduce noise and enable lorries to turn within the area rather than reversing in front of shoppers.

This plan has gone some way already. Anthony has met with Tesco executives, who have responded favourably – they were already re-thinking their plans after the debacle of the OOTS. As an edge-of-town site, it is, to use the jargon, ‘sequentially preferable’ to either Leadon Way site and would be more acceptable to the planners. And, as it is in retail use already, no issues about loss of employment land arise. It is possible Tesco could put this forward even before Sainsbury’s application is debated.

Any downsides? Well, no solution is ever perfect and no doubt the plan would be changed in some ways before ever being built. There would be more – though probably not many more – deliveries here than to the current store and there would also be a transitional period of up to a year, though it could be less, where the current store is closed while the new one is built. What would happen to the staff during that period? Only Tesco could answer that.

However, let’s face facts. One way or another, the current Tesco’s days are numbered. It is inadequate and has to be changed dramatically. If Sainsbury’s get planning permission for their store, Tesco will either pursue their OOTS to the bitter end and close this one when it happens, or simply close it and leave Ledbury. They will not sit there and let their market share be taken away. Corporations don’t work like that.

Overall, this is surely a plan that all of us who love Ledbury can get behind. It offers us a bigger, better supermarket with more choice but in the right place, complementing the High Street. As such, the independent shops would support it fully. It preserves employment land on Leadon Way. It saves us from the nightmare prospect of thousands more car trips out of town every day.

In all, this could be the silver bullet, the option that pleases pretty much everyone. Except Sainsbury’s, of course. But what have they done for us lately, except set us at each other’s throats? I ask everyone to look at this with an open mind and see that this is the best way forward.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 February 2012 12:01
 
Comments (4)
Ludlow, II
4 Friday, 10 February 2012 16:16
Andrew Warmington
Sounds about right.

Ludlow is also a lovely town that fought off a bog standard OOTS from Tesco who, to their credit, then built an edge-of-town store of suitable size that does not detract from the town visually or economically.

It can be done.
Ludlow
3 Thursday, 09 February 2012 17:25
John McCabe
It may be worth mentioning that Tesco in Ludlow has a net retail area, according to http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20110118095356/http:/www.cabe.org.uk/case-studies/tesco-ludlow/description, of 1,900sqm or 20,451 sqft. This is in a town that, according to its own website, http://www.ludlow.org.uk/, currently has a population of just under 11,000.

The comparison with Ledbury is obvious; Ledbury's mid-2010 population according to Herefordshire Council figures, was around 9,800, down from a high in 2007 of 9,900 so essentially we have a similarly sized town, with similar character so it's likely a Tesco of a similar size may be appropriate.
Good idea but with reservations, II
2 Friday, 03 February 2012 16:54
Andrew Warmington
This is not an official LOTS plan. Anthony came up with it as an expert in the field in part to show that Tesco could do exactly what they said they couldn't do: expand on the current site and still supply essentially all of the extra retail space that might be needed in Ledbury by 2026.

LOTS does not have a view on this plan as such but it is fair to say that our objections to both OOTS have been about location and size, generally in that order. Very few of us or of the independent traders would object to an expanded Tesco on its current edge-of-town site. This is being put forward as the outline of a compromise solution that most people in both camps could accept. Obviously it is not very likely to be adopted, let alone approved, wholesale.

If this idea was to be accepted in principle, the key question then would be 'how big'? Most of us in LOTS, I believe, would think 28,000 sq. ft. of net selling space is still far too much and that an expansion should be significantly smaller than that. The figure of 28,000 was always meant to be an 'up to' figure.

Part of the attraction of Anthony's blueprint to me is that it replaces a miserable looking store in a bunker with something that is fully part of the High Street, with a front door looking down to it. It will be only one storey high and need not be 'in yer face'. To their credit, notably in Ludlow, Tesco have managed to come up with store designs that do not detract from the townscape. In a place like Ledbury, they would have to do so again.

As for the other details like parking by the Baptist church, as our chums at LESS would say, that's all ifs buts and maybes. I don't see any point in commenting until a plan is drawn up and we know what is being offered. If that ever happens. Likewise as regards the Co-Op, no-one wants that to go but there is only so much you can legislate for. Any expansion would add a big chunk of new capacity at one go and how that would pan out over the longer term remains to be seen.

The idea that people will only go into town from it if Tesco don't have what they want at the time, however, strikes me as absurd. There will always be lots of things supermarkets don't sell. People go into town from the current Tesco for all sorts of reasons and would continue to do so. That's pretty much the whole point of having supermarkets as part of the High Street. And Tesco themselves have recognised that setting up giant sheds and trying to sell everything is not the way forward any more.
Good idea, but with reservations
1 Friday, 03 February 2012 12:40
Michael Lever
I imagine Anthony Peake's plans/ideas would make a lot of sense to Tesco, subject to the cost of implementation, and as a solution could make sense were it not for niggling doubts about the real impact on the town centre.

A tenet of LOTS reasoning is that the proposed size of store that Sainsbury's are wanting is too big for Ledbury, yet the ideas for Tesco would result in an almost similar size. Should I deduce from that that LOTS objection is less on size and more about the outskirts location? And if not then how come it would support a larger store for Tesco Orchard Lane when apparently there is not enough spending power to go round without adversely affecting local traders?

And what about the impact on the Co-op? Although rivalry between companies is not a valid objection on planning grounds, the object of this exercise is (presumably) to help maintain/preserve the balance of trade in High Street/The Homend. Since Co-op have already indicated that the presence of a larger supermarket on the outskirts of Ledbury would adversely affect the Co-op's revenue, how come the stability of Co-op would be safe in having a much larger Tesco in The Homend?

The downsides (including others too numerous to mention) may not be immediately apparent, but there may well be considerable consequential loss for local traders generally.