I heard it on the radio

Why does it always rain on us? Ravens Court on a summer afternoon last July. It was about 2pm.

BBC Radio WM’s Phil Upton Breakfast Show for Monday, 5th March 2012 featured the ongoing saga of Brownhills and Tesco, asking the question as to why the retail giant can’t seem to be bothered to undertake the redevelopment it promised for the town. As highlighted in the Express & Star last week and later here on the Brownhills Blog, Tesco seem to have got cold feet over building a new store in Brownhills.

The coverage on the show was generally quite good – although Phil clearly can’t be reading his notes, as he seemed unable to recall the name Ravens Court correctly for a while. There was a fair appraisal of the current situation with Ravens Court; a brief interview with Doreen from the Acropolis Cafe – sadly caught in lease limbo. There was quite a long interview with an apologist for the retail industr, a pretty incisive piece by a planning expert, and finally, a whole bunch of shuffling by a representative of Tesco itself.

I’ve recorded the relevant bits of the show and assembled them into one chunk – it really is worth a listen all the way through. The complete clip is about 23 minutes long.

The interview with the drone from Tesco stands quite well on it’s own, it’s a second under 4 minutes long:

It seems the official view is that it’s all down to Tesco not having time and resources to fit it in, and if the traders find themselves in an unfortunate position, it’s up to Walsall Council to look after them. The spokesman refused to be drawn on when there would be any construction, proceeding to tell us plans were ambitious and would definitely happen, he just couldn’t say when. It’s OK, though, as they’re ‘Refreshing’ the old store and investing plenty in the region, so don’t stop giving them your money, whatever you do.

This was a well executed program that confirmed my fears; Tesco clearly couldn’t give a toss about Brownhills and the state it’s been left in to accommodate their clearly now-shelved plan. They don’t care that the traders in the precinct have been left in limbo, and are indifferent to the fact that so many Council promises for our regeneration rested on their whim. They just want your custom, and don’t seem to think we’re intelligent enough to see through their bullshit.

I do wonder where local councillors and representatives of Walsall Council were in this program. Surely they were invited to comment? Adrian Andrew, regeneration chief for Walsall certainly spent lots of time doing free PR for the Tesco vision of our town, and it would be nice if he could take five minutes out of his busy day to explain to the folk of Brownhills why his bold promises have turned into a hill of beans.

Brownhills had all its eggs in one basket; soon, it’ll be a basket case. Remember, though, every little helps…

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  • Andy Dennis

    Thanks for this, Bob. Of course we get the usual spin from Tesco including (to paraphrase) ‘of course, Tesco never bank land to thwart rival supermarket operators’ and the planner saying ‘oh yes they do!’ It’s not rocket science.

    The British Retail Consortium spokesman did speak some sense, but suggested a freer planning system would be good; well, we had a freer system in the 1980s and that decimated many a high street. He also talked about new jobs. It has often been demonstrated that supermarket jobs simply displace other retail jobs and, because supermarkets are more efficient (fewer people sell more goods), the overall effect is a fall in employment. What is obvious is that job growth in this sector can only be sustained by growing disposable income and consumption, but in the current period of belt-tightening this is unlikely.

    The Council could refuse planning permission if it thinks the development, despite the applicant’s protestations, would not proceed within the timescale, but this would be unwise. Having granted planning permission there is nothing the Council can do to force development to begin.

    And it’s not just retailers who obtain more permissions than they can use. In Walsall as a whole, housebuilders have permissions for about 10 years’ worth of development at the going rate; they are not suddenly going to work twice as fast to build them all in the timescale. When asked: Is this part of the five-year supply?” the answer is “oh yes”, as though not building within five years is unthinkable.

    This doesn’t happen in Germany or the Netherlands or Italy, where the housing and other property markets are far less volatile; not freer, but less free.

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