Tesco: have they given up on Brownhills?

I notice from an article in the Express & Star that Tesco appear to be getting cold feet on their plan for a new store for Brownhills. This is grim news, but I’m not surprised, and have been sensing all has not been well for a while. Alarm bells started to ring when the store was downgraded from a massive Extra store with parking underneath, glass atria and extra retail units – like Cradley, Walsall or Lichfield – to a smaller, single-story affair that didn’t even show the courtesy of fronting the High Street. From being promised – and indeed, consulted on – a huge retail redevelopment of Brownhills, our town was sold out for a cheap option with none of the paybacks present in the original publicity.

From the Express & Star website, Monday, 27th February 2012. Click on the image to visit the story on their website.

The overhaul of a supermarket creating scores of new jobs is on hold after bosses admitted that there is no start date for the scheme.

Tesco says it is committed to the investment but it cannot confirm when the work will get under way.

It was initially anticipated the revamp of the store in Brownhills would get under way this spring. The nearby Ravenscourt Shopping Centre is due to be demolished as part of the project, and the remaining traders say that they are still not sure when they will have to move out.

The scheme includes a rebuild and expansion of the Silver Street store and two shop units for other retail or cafe-type use.

The plans have been in the pipeline for a number of years and planning approval with the creation of 150 jobs was granted 18 months ago but remains on hold.

Doreen Gent, manageress of the Acropolis coffee house in Ravenscourt Shopping Centre, said: “We have been left in limbo and don’t know what is happening.

“No-one has been telling us anything and we are struggling to survive.”

Tesco spokesman Jonathan Simpson said consent for the regeneration scheme is in place and they are finalising this year’s work plan. “At the moment we are just putting our plans together,” he added.

“We are reviewing our development programme all the time. We are committed to investing in the region.”

A new-look market pitch closer to High Street is eventually due to be created under the plans. It comes after the collapse of the relaunched Brownhills Market last summer.

The two-days-a-week event was scrapped nine months after it returned through private operators LSD Promotions who blamed a lack of traders and shoppers.

The project has faced delays throughout and had to be redrawn ahead of getting planning permission.

Since having their planning application approved, Tesco have done precisely nothing. Their existing store had an expensive new combined heat and power plant installed, and the toilets refurbished, which seemed an odd thing to do to a store allegedly slated for demolition. Meanwhile, the central precinct in Brownhills is now almost totally empty – in preparation for it’s own supposed demolition – and the market, killed of by the council to facilitate our new retail dawn, stands empty after a couple of failed attempts to restart it when the Council realised what a grave mistake they’d made. Brownhills has seen much of it’s retail footfall sacrificed for the arrival of our new retail overlords, who now can’t seem to be bothered to turn up to their own party. How the hell did we get into this mess?

Ravens Court: a decaying monument to the gullibility of our civic leaders?

Unfortunately, the classic 2009 letter to the Walsall Advertiser, written by self-styled  ‘Mr. Brownhills’, Doug Birch, no longer survives online. In it, he spoke loftily of new retail ‘coming on stream’, of new housing and a new dawn, all powered by Tesco and their wonderful benevolence, in which we wouldn’t need anything as anachronistic as a market. It was a classic demonstration of how a large supermarket chain and its developers can completely blind local dignitaries with unfeasible, unlikely schemes whilst all the time looking after their own vicarious goals. Instead of a retail dream, we seem to be drifting rudderless into a nightmare.

I’m not at all shocked by this, and have been predicting it for a while, but the sheer hubris of our big supermarkets is killing our towns. Brownhills seems to be just the latest in another long line of civic victims.

Tesco doesn’t care about Brownhills. It doesn’t care about you. It just wants your money. Remember that…

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23 Responses to Tesco: have they given up on Brownhills?

  1. 7rin says:

    Possibly because of http://www.hednesfordshopping.co.uk/victoria-shopping-park/ ??

    Of course, there’s still Hawks Green Tesco between them two, too. :(

  2. stymaster says:

    I just think that our new retail overlords are making enough money from the current store without having to invest millions, and don’t see much opportunity to pise more cash from us, so it stays as-is.

    @7rin: That’s going to properly wreck Hendesford….

    • I think you’re spot on, coupled with the drop in sales, I think Tesco may be cutting back.

      The Hednesford store was in the pipeline before Brownhills. I just don’t think they want to spend the money, and would rather leave us in the cold.

      Best wishes

      Bob

  3. As you know Bob, I’ve been a supporter of the development, but the continuing delays are a worry, and the lack of progress sends the wrong messages even to those who want the scheme to go ahead.
    Walking up Brownhills High St on a weekday recently I was struck by how few closed shops there are (Ravens Court aside). Yes, there’s little chance of John Lewis opening a flagship store next to Poxons any time soon, but compared to ‘One Stop’, the shopping centre near my workplace, or even Walsall High Street, we seem to be doing well with much higher occupation rates.
    I wonder if Brownhills Town Centre Partnership can put some pressure on Tesco?

    • Andy.

      It’s not a case of being for or against the development. We’ll get it if Tesco want it, we won’t if they don’t. That they can hold the sword of Damacles over the town, then wander off uninterested stinks, and says much for the company.

      Yes, you’ll get a posh new supermarket if it happens – but expect it, with the closed design it employs to destroy what’s left of the town’s trade. Yes, units are filling a little, but fast food, tattoo joints, tango parlours and insurance do not a bustling town centre make.

      My biggest problem with the whole thing was how poor the deal struck with Tesco was. The community get very little out of this, as Andy Dennis points out, there was a better deal to be made.

      Brownhills Town Centre Partnership apply pressure to Tesco? What are they going to go, block the car park with flower planters? Leave a facsimile of Morris Miner’s head in the CEO’s bed?

      This whole thing has been one way from the start. The supermarkets have too much power, and I fear we’ll miss our town centres when they’re gone. We need to wake up.

      Best wishes

      Bob

  4. Andy Dennis says:

    Vacancies may be lower than in some small towns, but the general profile of shops does not shout out “thriving!” to me. We have recently lost the DIY store and NatWest is about to close and unlike the launderette is not opening a new branch in the town. Purely, in architectural terms, good riddance to Ravenscourt, but it needs to be replaced by something that will strengthen the economy of the centre.

    Tesco is like a big fish in a small pond. It does pretty much as it likes, when and where it likes. True, they negotiate to some extent with the planning authority (the Council) about minor detals of design, access and so on, but (apart from refusing permission outside centres or for grossly oversized stores) all the Council can do, especially when Tesco put their giant foot down, is make the best of a bad job. In not safeguarding the market and other things against Tesco inertia or inaction it appears the Council has not made anything like the best of it. Still, Walsall Council is far from worst in that regard.

    When the rebuild was first proposed the current Tesco was obviously overtrading and it seemed obvious that a new, larger store would be sustainable, but that was before Fanny Mae and Feddie Mac. My impression lately is that the footfall is much lower and the overall structure of goods on sale has shifted down the price range. I, too, thought the investment in plant and shelving augured badly for the rebuild and feel resigned to put up with the current store for some time to come.

    In the short term the worst thing would be for either Ravenscourt to remain empty and boarded up or demolished and a vacant plot left empty and behind a fortress of steel and or hoardings. The Council’s main priority for Brownhills should be towards redevelopment of the site, ideally for a mix of residential, retail and public space; perhaps just the public space to start with. This should be done as part of an overall plan for traffic circulation and bringing the market into the centre of town. This is a big opportunity, but such things have come and gone …

    • stymaster says:

      You only have to look at the profile of shops in Brownhills (and in Walsall town centre, come to that) to see problems. They’re like Andy’s description of Brownhills Tesco writ large over a town: the whole thing shifts down-market. Try buying even some fairly basic things like spices in Brownhills Tesco, or anything except “sports” clothing, mobile phones, or pound-shop tat in Walsall. Of course, this is (a) Probably representative of what the shops can shift, and (b) Making me sound like a ciabatta-and-hummus eating skinny-decaf-latte snob, but you see my point?

      Aldridge fares better- it’s hideous 1960s precinct has been turd-polished (quite well, to be honest) and is relatively thriving, wih a better selection of shops and restaurants. Of course, Aldridge is more affluent, which helps.

      It’s a vicious circle in one way. No-one is spending great amounts, so the shops move down-market, so no-one spends, or at least, not enough spend enough. The most shameful thing was the way the council deliberatley murdered the market with counterfeit goods witch-hunts amd other tactics which just put another nail into Brownhills.

      There’s been some previous discussion on the topic of dead town centres over at Come the Revolution.

      Have to agree with the last paragraph of Andy’s comment above entirely.

      • Hi Stymaster

        Sense is being spoken here – the only thing I’d take issue with is the Aldridge turd-polish: Emperors new clothes. It’s a bit of gaudy paving.

        I think, pretty much, we’re stuffed.

        Best wishes

        Bob

        • stymaster says:

          I won’t argue with you too much about the paving, but it has lifted the centre a bit, and you only have to campare that to Ravenscourt: Aldridge’s hideous 60s centre is bustling on a Saturday, and not too unpleasant to be in, Ravenscourt feels like a ghetto. At least there’s been a little bit of investment, rather than 3/5 of fuck all :-/

          Mind you, Aldridge was doing OK without the paving, so a few slabs does not a town centre make.

    • Hi Andy.

      As ever, spot on with everything. It wasn’t Tesco I objected to as such, more the way the deal seemed so poor for Brownhills. Towards the end, they had to be begged to not demolish our OAP centre. That stank, frankly.

      Have to say, on these things you’re usually bang on the money.

      Best wishes

      Bob

  5. Doomed, doomed, we’re all doomed!
    Tesco build new store – we get a few cosmetic improvements to the town thrown into the deal and they suck up an even greater proportion of the town’s spending power.
    OR
    Tesco don’t build new store – the rotting bones of the town stay in limbo and continue to decay.
    Can anyone out there see a way out of this mess? – it’s got me beat.

  6. BOBII says:

    It doesn’t help that even with all that empty space they couldn’t find anywhere for parking. Cycling provision isn’t too great either.

  7. Graeme Fisher says:

    If Tesco don’t redevelop, you face the problem of a tatty store that people won’t use, and will go to other towns for the better supermarkets. If they do redevelop, they’ll steal all the trade from the remaining shops.
    I use Tesco a lot; you can’t find lemongrass in Lye high street, and BOGOF offers are few and far between, but I use a local butcher and Indian veg store, buy Tesco wine but local beer. I support local businesses that care. You won’t match Tesco on price, but if you give me something individual, or local, or quality, I’ll buy it.

  8. Not doomed, just different?
    As lifelong resident and self-styled “Brownhills – Centre of the Universe” promoter I have to make a confession.
    A few years ago I emigrated to the Chase Terrace/Burntwood area. One of the reasons was that every time I visited the town centre my heart sank as I compared it with the Brownhills of decades ago. Chase Terrace/Burntwood has a lot less of everything than Brownhills but I feel no depression. The reason is that both Chase Terrace and Burntwood are now and have always been villages and nothing more.

    Is it time to look at Brownhills not as a Town with a capital “T” but a village with a limited list of facilities? Would giving up on trying to match Walsall, Cannock or even Aldridge make us happier?
    It has taken the UK a few generations to become at ease with our smaller part in world affairs – is it time for Brownhills to get used to a new (smaller) future for the sake of its communal blood pressure? Superstores, out of town shopping and internet shopping are not about to change so perhaps we have to.
    Replace the shops of Silver Court and Ravens Court – but with flats. (Thick skin ready for disagreement!)

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  10. chris cooke says:

    if people use the local shops they will come back. they will provide the service you need and with a smile. take the gloos of any tesco superstore and you find it’s not cheap and not value. better products are available from high street shops with more choice. local butchers and fresh vegtable shops provide better quality at cheaper prices. dont be fooled by all the bling and fan fare from supermarkets they are there only for your money nothing more. support the high street. Britian will be a sorry place without it

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