Campaigning to curb supermarket power

Godalming, Surrey

Residents say the public house that Tesco wants to takeover is sited on a very busy roundabout-controlled road junction and the increased traffic - arising from customers and deliveries - which they are concerned will be a major problem. A petition against the plans gathered over 5,000 signatures.

In November more than 50% of those who responded to a survey following a public meeting with Tesco in Godalming said there was nothing Tesco could do to convince them that the new shop would be an asset to the town. Of the 124 people who responded before the deadline, 97% were concerned about the impact of a Tesco store on R & V Newsagents, which is next door to The Wey Inn, where a lease has been signed by the supermarket.

Campaigners met Tesco representatives in December and in January started a hunt to find other businesses interested in buying the site after Tesco indicated it would listen to offers.

In August MP Jeremy Hunt vowed to do all he can to support the fight against the plans. He met local campaigners to discuss plans to open a store at the site of the vacant Wey Inn, opposite the roundabout with Bridge Road and Chalk Road. Mr Hunt intends to write to Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government, to seek clarification on this loophole and asking what he plans to do about it. Mr Hunt will be accompanied only by Mr John Taylor, President of the Godalming Chamber of Commerce (which opposes the Tesco plan) and the Chair of Godalming Junior school (which is less than 50m from the former pub building Tesco wishes to use). Jeremy Hunt had a private meeting with Tesco, on 12th October. Local shopkeepers were disappointed it was set up as a private meeting. According to Jeremy Hunt, Tesco ‘...had not been keen on a public meeting at this stage’. Opponents are asking the simple question: ‘What have they got to hide?’

Meanwhile, opponents to the scheme await with interest the intervention of Mary Portas, so-called ‘Queen of Shops’. Ms Portas has added her support to the anti-Tesco campaign at the invitation of the Chamber of Commerce, itself a fierce supporter of Godalming High Street.

A key feature of the Tesco proposal is the impact it will have on local traffic, a source of considerable concern for the adjacent Junior School. The site is on a busy main road junction, with access to the existing, small car-park notoriously difficult throughout the day. In a feeble, highly cynical and disingenuous response, a Tesco spokesperson denied that traffic will increase, saying its convenience stores ‘...generally attract customers from the immediate vicinity, who walk or cycle’.

Local residents of the Tesco Express in Milford, not more than 3 miles from the present threatened site and also on a main road, would beg to differ. The store there has spaces for some 30+ vehicles and the car park is regularly full! Tesco is quite well aware that a key attraction of their stores making use of former pub premises is that, for the most part, such buildings are – almost by definition – located on main roads with the aim of attracting passing motorists as much as those who ‘walk or cycle’.

Following the protest march on Saturday 27th October a public meeting was chaired by local MP and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, to confront Tesco’s representatives about the supermarket chain’s plans to convert a disused public house into a Tesco store.The meeting was preceded by a march from the local newsagent’s shop that is under threat of closure if the Tesco store opens – the local shop is adjacent to the public house site. Much to the amusement of the protesters who had crammed the meeting room to overflowing, the Tesco representatives – John Timothy, head or regional corporate communications, and Simon Petar, regional corporate affairs manager – arrived late, having ‘lost their way’ on the journey from corporate HQ. Several of those in the audience suggested afterwards that this was clearly a metaphor for the corporation as a whole, particularly in light of its recently-announced 12% drop in profits.

In the event, neither Timothy nor Petar was able to offer any sound, or indeed acceptable, responses to questions from the protesters. When John Timothy tried to use the oft-rehearsed corporate line that ‘other stores can exist next to a Tesco’, he was met with derisive jeers. It seemed that he and Petar were unaware of the threat to the local shop that their store would represent, let alone to other, similar local shops in the area and the town centre. The suspicion remained that neither of the Tesco men had actually bothered to visit the proposed site, to see for themselves what was involved.

The protest march and public meeting on 27 October was reported by ITN News in its evening London News programme that day. Whatever happens, it is clear that the local trader enjoys the full support of not only his customers but also the wider business community in Godalming and beyond (the local Chamber of Commerce opposes the Tesco plan). 

Background

In November 2011 Sainsbury's, in Woolsack Way, opened a pharmacy without permission before submitting a retrospective planning application in December. Nearly six weeks later, a spokesman for Sainsbury's confirmed that it would be closing the facility "until the planning application was decided". A petition was lodged, signed by 1,133 residents all of whom object to the application on the grounds that it will negatively affect other, smaller pharmacies in the area. Planning officers at Waverley Borough Council said the decision to "ignore local planning rules" had been "disappointing".

Surrey
United Kingdom
51° 10' 2.2404" N, 0° 36' 15.2928" W
Surrey GB

Campaign Updates
Godalming, Surrey

22 February 2017
Tesco confirms it will no longer pursue a store in Godalming
5 July 2016
Borough Council reject certificate of lawfulness

Waverley Borough Council rejected the application in July after concluding the building was not operating as a shop at the time an arson attack in March last year destroyed the building’s roof and, as such, could not issue the certificate of lawfulness.

16 January 2015
Tesco still planning to open Easter 2015
15 September 2014
Final applications approved
1 September 2014
Tesco start work on store

Despite a minor works application not yet being approved.

12 June 2014
Council turns down application for second time

Waverley Borough Council has refused Tesco’s second application for the installation of external air-conditioning units. The decision notice from the Council stated that ‘The application has failed to demonstrate that the proposed development would not result in noise levels which would result in material harm to the amenities of the occupiers of the adjacent [residential and commercial] properties. The Environmental Health department which stated that a report on the anticipated noise levels of the air-conditioning units, prepared by consultants for Tesco, ‘contains a number of inaccuracies which appear to have been pasted from another report, which undermines the credibility of this assessment’. In addition, the Environmental Health report noted that there was ‘insufficient information in the report, the applicant has not demonstrated that the noise will be sufficiently controlled, and complaints are likely’.

4 September 2013
Two applications refused

 Waverley Council has rejected two of Tesco’s four planning applications. The two applications that were turned down were for the installation of air-conditioning units outside the building and changing the frontage to allow for installation of a large new glazed shop-front, both of which are fundamental aspects of Tesco’s overall intentions for the building. They voted 10 to 1 against.

20 August 2013
Tesco lodges four planning applications

to install a shop front and ramp, display illuminated and non-illuminated signs, install a canopy and also an air conditioning and condenser unit.

8 July 2013
Tesco announce Express store will have new click and collect facility
22 March 2013
Traffic report published

The report was undertaken by Surrey County Council.

27 October 2012
Protest march and petition of 6,000 signatures
2 July 2012
Tesco announces plans to open store in former public house