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).
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".