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News and Comment May 2012

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25 May (Part 2) - Tesco Town

Woolwich HQThe third subject on the Agenda of last night’s Planning Committee meeting was the old Black Horse coaching inn, recently vandalized by a combination of council stupidity and developer cunning. Would the replacement façade look anything like the original? It was the reason I attended. For an answer I can only refer you to the Sidcup Community Group because when I left at ten past ten, being unable to endure the hard seat any longer, the item was yet to come up for debate.

The Community Group has since told me that I would have to have stayed another hour to hear that “The Travelodge façade will now incorporate opening sash windows with authentic glazing bars, ground floor bay windows, faithfully replicated canopy, materials which will faithfully replicate the original colours and a conspicuous plaque which will summarise the historic significance of the building. This is as much as anyone could have reasonably expected”. (The Community Group’s words.)

A minor issue that probably interested only me was that councillor Simon Windle asked for the Minutes of the last meeting to be changed to include the fact that he had sent Apologies for Absence from the last meeting even though it was accepted that none arrived. It was agreed that the Minutes would be amended to say that Apologies were received from councillor Windle. Thus we have Minutes that record something that never happened which is in stark contrast with the treatment meted out to councillor Malik. His request to have something that did take place included was refused. Presumably he will have to become a Conservative if he expects to be treated reasonably.

There were about 60 people in the public gallery most of whom were there to protest about the opening of yet another Tesco in the borough. This time Northumberland Heath is to be so honoured; however the first item on the Agenda was the new Civic Offices that are to occupy the old Woolwich Building Society HQ. Planning permission was a foregone conclusion but the issue still managed to soak up 55 minutes.

After the presentation by Mr. Stone, the quietly efficient council officer, councillor Tandy mumbled something about being “happy” with the “excellent outcome”. Anything else he may have said was lost because whenever he spoke he leaned well back in his chair so that he was a good three or four feet from the microphone. Some members of the public protested but they were ignored. To be fair to Chairman Peter Reader I doubt they made sufficient fuss for him to have noticed so he, unlike our new mayor Alan Downing is unlikely to be labelled “disrespectful” by the Standards Committee.

Little new came to light in the subsequent discussion. The on-site parking is to be restricted to two hours per visit and staff will be expected to use town centre parking which isn’t far away. Councillor Simon Windle thought the restriction should apply to councillors too but councillor John Waters said he would soon become “fed up if he found he finished up paying for parking”. Welcome to the real world councillor.

The south east facing roof which dominates the view from the A2 approaching Bexleyheath is to be adorned with 280 square metres of solar panels and, in a yet to be specified spot, a tall communications mast. Councillor Malik probed possible traffic problems but Mr. Boden, another council officer, said that all the assessments, surveys and computer modelling indicated there would be no problem. Certainly less than when the Woolwich BS occupied the building. As expected, the plans were unanimously accepted.

Tesco protestThe next subject for discussion was Tesco’s plan to open an ‘Express’ in the premises formerly occupied by the family owned electrical retailer Wellingtons. Wellingtons has not succumbed to the corporate might of Comet and the like, but has moved next door to a modern store more suited to their requirements. Tesco seems to be on a mission to take over the borough. Two large stores (planned or open) and five Express stores come to mind immediately.

The protesters and their placards stood no serious chance of stopping Tesco in their tracks. The existing store permission would allow a shop to open there tomorrow. However Tesco wants to install a cash machine (ATM), change the shop front a bit, put up a Tesco sign and install air conditioning units and compressors all of which do require permission. It was said there are already six ATMs in the small shopping centre and they attract groups who loiter with ill-intent and outside a store selling cheap alcohol it was a “dangerous” situation.

Councillors Bishop and Waters were concerned about the traffic congestion that delivery vehicles would cause and anyone who knows the area will be very aware that things are pretty bad already. The shops do not have rear service areas but Planning Department chief, Susan Clark, had to remind the Committee that there was absolutely nothing that could legally be done to prevent Tesco using any delivery vehicle they might choose. For the record, Tesco has said they don’t plan to use anything bigger than ten metres long.

Councillor Munir Malik, as is often the case, had most to say about the problems the ATM might cause and said he was going to vote against it. Building to a climax, he said he was minded to vote against all four of the applications. He asked council officer Boden his expert opinion on the traffic implications of an ATM on a street corner but Boden had great faith in the existing double yellow lines being a satisfactory deterrent. The protesters voiced their derision.

One might have guessed that Munir’s condemnation of the proposed ATM would earn it a reprieve but in fact the vote went against it with only one dissenter. Councillor Val Clark either had her hand up at the wrong time or was in favour of Tesco’s ATM.

If I lived close to the proposed store I would be more concerned about the noise from the compressors and air-con units. They would be only about four metres from the nearest dwelling, that was the official estimate, the protesters sitting near me said it was closer. It was alleged that the compressors at the Welling store are noisier than the permission allows but councillor Val Clark said this wasn’t true. Tesco might consider sending her some Clubcard Reward Points for her consistent loyalty.

There was already a plan to limit the night time noise levels and the units were approved on the understanding that (higher) day time limits would be imposed too. Councillor Malik along with his party colleague Seán Newman was as good as his word and voted against everything.

The protesters filed out at 21:45 with shouts of “whitewash” the relevance of which I failed to comprehend. Whilst I can see that Tesco will add little or nothing to the wellbeing of Northumberland Heath and will make the frequently appalling road congestion even worse, the Planning Committee could not reasonably stop it. If local feeling is strong enough residents can always boycott Tesco. It’s not as though the Express prices are competitive. A rip-off from my limited experience.


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