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.
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?
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…