Large supermarkets are hoarding good housing land

tesco-siteA large site which has been earmarked by a council for residential housing, but owned by a major supermarket chain, has been lying derelict for 11 years. At a time of pressing housing need, this is a scandal.

Perhaps you know of similar cases to my story. If so, share them in the comments. Does anyone know how much land is being hoarded in this way?

In 2002 Tesco bought a redundant Ministry of Defence site in Tolworth, which lies within the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, in the southwest corner of Greater London. The sale was by private treaty and was never placed on the open market. Tesco also acquired a landmark pub, and a housing block that needed replacement, adjacent to the main site. All the existing buildings were demolished.

The total area of the site was 5.4 hectares. It could hold up to 400 homes, of which 50% would be affordable, although the preferred option is for a mixture of housing types including family homes with gardens, which would reduce the total number.

Since then Tesco has submitted three planning applications, all of which are for a very large 24 hour supermarket covering about 50% of the site, with high density housing crammed into the rest of the space.

The site lies across the busy A3 road from Tolworth Broadway, which is a substantial district shopping centre.  There is a genuine fear that a large supermarket located away from the main shopping parade will severely damage the local economy, and kill off many of the shops. Indeed, all the local planning policies for the area identify the whole of the site for housing, not for retail.

When Tesco’s first plans for the site were submitted in 2006, public opposition, led by Edward Davey and local Lib Dem councillors, was overwhelming and Tesco withdrew the application before it came to a Planning Committee.

Their next attempt in 2009 was also aborted when it became clear that they would not be able to afford to meet the Mayor of London’s requirements for managing the traffic in the area.

The latest planning application was submitted in June last year. Although the density of the housing has been reduced, it still only covers about half of the site.

The ward councillors, all Lib Dem, would be very happy to see this brownfield site used in totality for housing, which is sorely needed.  But Tesco is hoarding the land and hoping to wear down the local community and councillors by gradually offering less worse options, in the hope that eventually they will cave in. The derelict appearance of the site is not entirely unintentional, either.

The Tescopoly Alliance tracks potential developments by Tesco, but is mainly concerned with the impact on other retailers and the fair treatment of farmers and other suppliers, rather than their stranglehold on housing land. There are campaigns across the UK against other large supermarkets as well, but again they often focus on the effects on local shopping parades. It is about time we spoke out about the land hoarding strategies which are denying housing to needy families.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Ideally the solution is Land Value Tax – If Tesco (or anyone else) wants to hoard land, then they should have to pay to do so. As an interim partial solution towards true LVT (which might actually stand a cat in hells chance of being implemented)- you could implement some sort of derelict land tax which increases each year the site continues to be derelict to encourage some form of re-use. Clearly there are problems and issues with this – but would be some sort of encouragement in the right direction.

  • Did someone say Land Value Tax yet?

    Oh, they did. Well, OK, but just in case people didn’t hear Lennon: LAND VALUE TAX

  • Land Hoarding?

    Surely we should be speaking out about is a planning system that allows land holders to repeatedly submit effectively the same plans that are contrary to local planning strategy and local community needs and desires, with all the costs involved. After Tesco’s had their first set of plans rejected in 2006, they should of been required to pay the local authorities costs associated with any further applications involving similar development ie. a supermarket/superstore.

    However, given the location, 400 homes is very conservative and relatively low density development. A continuation of the Tolworth Underpass, would enable this section of the A3 to be put into a tunnel (as per the A1 at Hatfield) thereby releasing significantly more land for development and improving the quality of life in Tolworth.

  • Old Codger Chris 16th Apr '13 - 7:05pm

    It’s a bit like tax avoidance – what Tesco are doing is perfectly legal and they are simply looking after their own interests.

    The answer is to change the law – easier to achieve in a matter like this than in tax avoidance involving foreign domiciles.

  • I’d like to see each large out of town supermarket to be made to build some high
    quality housing on part of the huge amount of land they currently hold onto for parking – or even better they should be forced to build flats above the parking. – a small dent in the housing problem but hey every little helps…..

  • Richard Harris 16th Apr '13 - 10:10pm

    On the subject of planning, why nothing about the lib dem MPs that tonight have backed the insane policy that will allow 8m extensions to houses with no permission required from the local authority? For a party supposedly embedded in the concept of localism, why have so few libdems failed to back an amendment that would have given local authorities the right to opt out of the ridiculous three year suspension of normal planning regs?

  • Mary >Perhaps you know of similar cases to my story. If so, share them in the comments.

    Don’t know the full story, only what I’ve heard from relations who live over that way, but I’ve heard them moaning that Tesco bought up a lot of land in Dartford years ago, wanted to ruin a park, and haven’t built anything since??? Mostly shops affected, I think, but homes promised in the original plans.
    Looks like something was finally supposed to happen ‘mid April,’ so maybe it is ‘any time now, folks’ – but can’t see any update since February.

  • Perhaps with Tesco’s announcements today about dropping plans for 100 new supermarkets across the country Kingston may see some progress.

  • Well said Mary, land grabbing can be very bad for a local area and also stifle local business/retail development – especially where planning is given but building does not happen.
    You raise another issue, the disposal of government property without putting it on the open market. This leads to land being sold too cheaply so a lousy deal for taxpayers, is not fair as does not allow people, communities or investors to know about the sale, and provides an amazing opportunity for fraud.
    I don’t see why there aren’t government rules on disposal, as there are with procurement, to get a fair and transparent deal for all.

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