I noted with interest today that a whole slew of new documentation had appeared online under the planning application for the new Tesco store, slated to be developed in Brownhills in the next couple of years. Regulars and locals alike will be aware that the scheme has caused some controversy. Originally planned as a huge store-on-stils fronting the High Street with restaurants, atria, new shop units and houses, the design was mysteriously scaled back to the current form when finally submitted earlier this year. These plans, however, did not go down well with local pensioners, whose custom-built Senior Citizen’s Club would have been gratuitously demolished to make way for a small overspill car park.
Following a noble and well-supported campaign, the doughty OAP’s forced a shoulder-shrugging climbdown by Tesco, and a less graceful hissy fit from Walsall Council regeneration chief, Councillor Adrian Andrew. Following publicity to indicate they were redrawing plans, the retail giant has submitted the above revised site layout, which does, indeed, leave the well-loved pensioner’s club untouched, instead moving the overspill car park to cover approximately half the area previously set out for the rejuvenated market, or ‘public space’, as the original plans termed it. The old market place, which would make ideal parking – still lies untouched and undeveloped in the plan, and will presumably lie derelict upon completion. They’ve saved the club by grabbing land from that originally set aside for the public.
It is sadly indicative of the approach both Walsall Council and Tesco have taken to Brownhills that we either keep the club and shrink our marketplace, or we lose the club and retain the postage stamp originally set out for the purpose. The land in question is currently a patch of wasteland between Kwik-Fit and Pier Street; the Market – should it even survive – will be given just the front half of that ground, which the designers say will hold 40 stalls. No provision has been made for trader parking, and one wonders how that would work – would stallholders be allowed to park on Tesco’s car park? At what cost?
It’s clear from the plans that Walsall Council have not managed to extract any extra leeway from their retail partner, who still seem to be getting an excellent deal. There are a couple of other changes in this drawing of note – the three retail units scheduled to be constructed to fill the gap across the front of the former Raven’s Court are now reduced to two – one small, one larger. The reversing bay to allow access to the shops fronting High Street has been moved to the end of the access road and now impinges on the public ‘Gateway’ access beside Swan Carpets. Somewhat mysteriously, the main entrance to the store, originally at the High Street end of the shopfront, moved to the Silver Street end on the second draft, has been moved back again.
There are some interesting documents now available alongside the revised plans; one deals with a formal objection by Aldi to the development, which gives a revealing insight as to how Tesco sees its position in Brownhills, and a couple of ‘3D sketches’ which mock up (in a rather jarring fashion, it has to be said – they remind me of stills from the apocalyptic film ‘The Day After’) the market and access way.
A full overview of the application and it’s supporting documentation can be found on Walsall Council’s ‘Planning Interactive’ site, reference 10/375/FL.
This has been a good and welcome victory for the Senior Citizens – of that there can be no doubt – but it’s also been a positive outcome for Tesco, as they’ve changed the development without substantially ceding any ground. The only people to lose out are the wider community, who seem to be punished for expecting a large business concern not to destroy longstanding elements of their social infrastructure. Sadly, we have brokering this development a council that seems to be prepared to acquiesce to anything their retail masters demand, and are wholly unprepared to force the hand of the retailer. The community is consequently expected to gratefully play host to a development that will surely be fatal to it’s independent traders.
The Tesco store will happen, and I doubt very much that the market will survive, even if it were to commence again. It was never in the plan, and this one just makes it all the more impractical. If you should hear the sound of running water, that’ll probably be the sound of Brownhills being sold down the river. Again.