The saga of the proposed Tesco development in Brownhills rumbles on. Both Walsall Council and Tesco seem to be very keen to reassure us all that negotiations are ongoing, that everything is being ironed out and smoothed over. Fresh from the latest round of praising the progress of the new Tesco in Walsall, the cabinet member for Regeneration, Councillor Adrian Andrew, has a message for the elderly of Brownhills: he’d like you to know that he thinks you’re all ingrates.
On the 29th July 2010 the following Walsall Council press release dropped into my inbox.
Walsall Council PR 5228 26/07/2010
Pledge to Brownhills group as Tesco talks continue
Detailed negotiations are taking place between Walsall Council and supermarket chain Tesco over a proposed new multi-million pound store.
Scores of new jobs and a new market area could be created through the development off High Street in Brownhills.
Members of the Brownhills Senior Citizens group have been assured they will be kept updated on the outcome of the talks.
Councillor Adrian Andrew, Walsall Council Deputy Leader and cabinet member for regeneration, said: “We understand the worries that the many elderly members of the group have.
“We’d like to issue this clear pledge to members of the group. They will be the first to know about the results of the negotiations.
“There’s been a lot of misinformation flying around on this story which hasn’t helped anyone.
“Let’s be clear about this. We first talked to the group way back in April when it became clear that detailed proposals from Tesco were to be put on the table, I have since met personally with the club to better understand those concerns. It is as a direct result of those face-to-face discussions with myself and the group that changes are now being considered and for no other reason.
“We originally talked about the chance of the group moving to a new state-of-the-art building sharing with housing 21 a short distance away. This would at a stroke replace their current home for the last few decades and the offer is the envy of many struggling community groups. It would also help solve any worries about the upkeep of their current home.
“However the group have decided they would prefer to keep their current home and we are seeing if we can work with Tesco to accommodate this request.”
Ward members were briefed in February and were broadly supportive of the proposals, Councillor Andrew said. A proposed new Tesco superstore would replace and update the current Tesco supermarket, off High Street.
Planning permission from Walsall Council’s development control committee would have to be given before the scheme could go ahead.
Now I’m curious as to the thinking behind this missive. I note the terminology used for the number of jobs created continues to evolve – we’re now down to ‘scores’ – and whilst the self-basting councillor seems keen to tell us all how out of his way he’s going to resolve this inconvenience, he manages also to point out how ungrateful the pensioners are being. This seems, to be quite frank, rather unseemly for a man in his position. Let’s be clear, here. The council didn’t offer the group ‘a state of the art building sharing with Housing 21’ but a community room in a new-build sheltered housing complex. If Mr. Andrew knows of any struggling community groups in the area, perhaps a better solution would be to offer the room to them instead, and tell Tesco to build their overspill car park on the former market place instead. That way a struggling group is helped, and the OAP’s keep their facility.
The veiled threat about the upkeep of the centre hasn’t gone unnoticed, either. I’d be interested to know who the ‘ward members’ were, and what, exactly, they were broadly supportive of, since there seem to be quite a few conflicting rumours still persisting about what, exactly, this development will involve.
Contrary to the opinion of Councillor Andrew, most of the misinformation seems to be caused by ambiguous and vague press releases from the council itself.
A little over a week later, this story appeared in the Walsall edition of the Express & Star. No online version exists, so I’ve scanned it below.
This is a fair and informative article by Craig Hughes, and I’d be interested to understand it’s genesis, which seems to be Tesco itself. Oddly, we’re being presented with a peculiar choice: either we keep Senior Citizens Centre and have the marketplace somewhere else, or we demolish the centre and put the marketplace fronting the High Street. I don’t understand the conditions here at all.
If we look at the last submitted plan, the current marketplace is left empty and undeveloped, presumably still owned by the Council. Could Tesco not extend their car park here, instead? That way the pensioners beloved facility is retained, the new public space (‘Marketplace’) can be developed as planned and we’re not left with empty ground where the market was. A land swap could still go ahead for the former market. I honestly can’t see what’s so difficult.
It seems like we’re being punished for wanting to keep community facilities that have stood for years, and I don’t understand why that should be the case. I have to say, however, that judging by the previous failure of the market under Walsall Council’s stewardship, I wouldn’t hold out much hope for a new one starting three years hence.
What is needed here is a council that is prepared to show some of the backbone and resolve that the Brownhills Senior Citizens have. Walsall Council and their Regeneration Chief, Councillor Adrian Andrew should be fighting for this area, for the town, and for the people that live here. Instead, we’re being made to feel awkward for not prostrating ourselves before him and his grand retail masterplan. I reiterate my previous statement that Tesco seem to be giving very little back to Brownhills in return for a huge retail reward – no wonder they can afford to be relaxed.
One wonders what curious spell the retail giant seems to have cast over our undemanding and apparently supine council.