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News and Comment March 2012

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16 March (Part 1) - ASDA opposition checks out

B&Q Picardy RoadThere was a good turn out for last night’s planning meeting, at a guess, 50 or maybe a few more and from both sides of the argument. The meeting was chaired by councillor Peter Reader, he didn’t have a great deal to do. Speakers made short speeches, councillors asked questions and council officers answered them. Most of them were fielded by the planning boss, Mrs. Susan Clark and a Mr. Stone from the same department. It was Mr. Stone who was most impressive, obviously a man on top of his brief who knew the answer to every question thrown at him and the history of planning in the area going back twelve years.

Councillor Gill MacDonald who represents Belvedere started the meeting with a three minute speech against the proposed ASDA store. She was speaking on behalf of the Residents’ Forum rather than as a councillor and claimed that the Nuxley Road, Belvedere shopping centre was vibrant 20 years ago and now it had empty shops. Much later in the meeting Mrs. Clark said that Nuxley Road was the least at risk shopping centre in the borough with fewer empty shops than elsewhere. The councillor said the steep and narrow road between Upper (Nuxley Road) Belvedere and Lower was a problem, which is true but I saw nothing else in her speech that was convincing. Possibly councillor MacDonald wasn’t really interested one way or the other because she left the meeting immediately after speaking. This was the subject of adverse comment later in the evening by ASDA supporters on the bus home to Belvedere.

There were other speakers from both sides of the camp, some professionals in the field, others not. Generally speaking the pro-ASDA speakers were far more confident than their opposition. A Mrs. Beryl Hyde who lives near the proposed site had organised a petition in favour of ASDA and obtained almost as many signatures in two weeks as the anti-ASDA group had done in the several months since the plan first surfaced.

The first councillor to speak in that capacity was Mike Slaughter who suggested he needed more time to consider “a most difficult decision”. Mrs. Susan Clark patiently read out most of the Addendum to the Agenda which addressed the most recently raised objections. Why councillor Slaughter couldn’t read it for himself I do not know; I had already done so and if you will forgive me saying so I thought it was an admirable and well researched document which answered all my own misgivings about the ASDA scheme. Councillor Slaughter’s concern, as he made clear later, was that we may be wrecking Belvedere as he acknowledged Bexley council had wrecked Sidcup.

Picardy HillMrs. Clark explained in great detail why that wasn’t going to happen. She said that a lot had been learned from the mistakes of Sidcup where Safeway (now Morrisons) had been allowed to move in and dominate retailing in the area. Conditions were to be imposed on ASDA which would prevent them taking on services like pharmacy and dry cleaning which might kill the independent local businesses. I suspect the fact that Morrisons is but two minutes walk from Sidcup centre and ASDA will be a good half mile from Nuxley Road, separated by one of the steepest hills in SE London, may also have an impact. No one who might otherwise nip into Nuxley Road for a quick shop is likely to want to lug their bags back up Picardy Road or pay £4.60 for a return trip on one of Boris’s expensive 15 minute interval buses. The view (left) from only half way up that hill may explain why.

Another councillor with local interests, John Davey (Conservative, Lesnes ward) condemned the plans for ASDA. The new jobs promised were a red herring he said. There is only so much food Belvedere residents can eat so what is sold in ASDA will not be bought in other Bexley shopping centres, oblivious to the fact that for most of his electorate the nearest supermarket is Morrisons in Thamesmead (Greenwich) and to get there on a bus can take 35 minutes because of its meandering route. I speak from experience.

Mr. Stone explained in painstaking detail with reference to scientific studies of shopping habits and to planning law that councillor Davey’s claims were either wrong, misguided or irrelevant. Very possibly all three. Mr. Stone is much more polite than me.

Another local councillor who made a case for more expensive food shopping in Belvedere was that champion of the oppressed, Munir Malik (Labour, Thamesmead East).

Councillor Brian Bishop (Colyers) expressed some scepticism over the claim of 300 new job opportunities. Part time or full time he wanted to know. So did I. Mrs. Susan Clark thought they were 300 full time equivalent posts.

No one actually nailed their colours to the ASDA mast, it was as if everyone was ashamed to be associated with it. Councillor John Waters admitted to having his mind changed by the arguments and the case made by the planning officers, which was certainly thorough. Councillor Val Clark was similarly minded to stick her head above the parapet, everyone else seemed to be traumatized by what their earlier decision had done for Sidcup - although parking restrictions and idiotic road layouts could not have helped.

Despite the reservations and general lack of enthusiasm the vote went 6:4 in favour of ASDA. Let’s hope that all the road schemes ASDA has volunteered to pay for are a success. When you get to do your shopping in ASDA instead of wasting petrol and time getting elsewhere remember to give thanks to councillors Waters and Clark and Mr. Stone. When you get to place an X on a ballot paper in Belvedere remember the names Kerry Allon, Gill MacDonald, John Davey and Munir Malik, all of whom wanted to deprive you of choice and raise your costs. Kerry Allon who had taken the leading role in the original planning rejection took no part in the debate or vote this time.

I mentioned the bus home earlier which was filled with pro ASDA people. It is true to say the Belvedere Residents' Forum was coming in for some stick and the local MP who, as with so many things, supported her constituents who almost to a man (woman?) were in favour of the ADSA proposal, was on the receiving end of a few metaphorical bouquets. Not all Teresas are bad eggs.


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