Opinion: Beware of Tesco towns

The Government’s chief design adviser has warned against the danger of supermarket led developments in town centres. Mixed-use developments involving the building of housing, schools and parks linked to supermarkets are often badly conceived and may not thrive in the long term, said the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) in its report published this week.

While developers are keen to sign up a key anchor tenant such as Tesco, Sainsbury or Homebase to lease their retail and commercial spaces, this may not be what residents or local communities want or need. A formula that works for an out-of-town mall may instead lead to the loss of local shops, character and iconic landmarks to big name chain-stores.

Closer to home, there is the proposed development of Hammersmith Town Hall. The plans submitted earlier this month have a key anchor supermarket tenant in the development, strategically located by a lovely new ‘piazza’. However in order to make the numbers work for the developer, two tower blocks 15 storeys tall will have to be constructed to maximise the number of units of luxury apartments for sale. No affordable housing has been incorporated into the plans.

Not surprisingly local residents and no less than 20 amenity groups (including the Hammersmith Society, Hammersmith Mall and Brackenbury residents associations) are up in arms about this over-development. More details can be viewed on the website Save Our Skyline, with objections ranging from the size and scale of the development being out of character with the area, to the eviction of blind residents from a local housing trust.

The blight on the skyline does not of course only affect Hammersmith residents, but also anyone within sight of the river. Views from the bridges, towpaths and homes south of the river in neighbouring Barnes and Mortlake will be dominated by the development. Worse, it will set a precedent for high-rise development that would, in the words of the protesters, “overwhelm” this part of the borough and the river frontage. This is not Canary Wharf.

As for the proposed 2,000 square metres supermarket, there are already five mid-sized supermarkets within a 500-metre radius of the site and there is no crying need for another outlet. So we come to the real motivation for the redevelopment of the site – which is to construct brand new council offices to replace the admittedly outmoded 1970s offices. Will the planners be in a position of conflict when considering the application which includes the construction of offices for themselves? Besides, how can the Tory-controlled Hammersmith & Fulham Council justify the need for lavish offices in a time of austere cuts whilst at the same time shedding staff in merger talks with neighbouring Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster to create a ‘Super Council’?

Thankfully we have on the horizon the much anticipated Decentralisation and Localism Bill that will give more powers to local communities on planning issues and thus hold the local authority to account. The publication of the bill has been delayed, but in the meanwhile please sign the petition to “Save our Skyline” by visiting www.saveourskyline.co.uk.

The public meeting to address the plans is being hosted by Save Our Skyline (SOS) on Monday, 6 December, 7.00pm at Rivercourt Methodist Church, King St., just west of the Town Hall. All welcome.

Merlene Emerson was the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Hammersmith in May 2010

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  • I am a bit confused by this. There seem to be two separate issues – whether to build the two residential towers and whether there should be a large supermarket. You say ‘while developers are keen to sign up a key anchor tenant such as Tesco, Sainsbury or Home base to lease their retail and commercial spaces, this may not be what residents or local communities want or need.’
    Here is the great thing about market economies – if people in Hammersmith don’t want or need a new large supermarket they won’t go to shop there and it will close. Developers will be less likely to open them in similar circumstances elsewhere.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 25th Nov '10 - 2:25pm

    Very good piece Merlene – hopefully the new Bill will give more power to local communities to hold local planning authorities to account.

  • Gareth Epps 25th Nov '10 - 2:49pm

    One of the best things the Government could do is include in the Localism Bill the establishment of a Local Competition Ombudsman as recommended by NEF to rein in the monopoly power of the likes of Tesco (12 stores in Reading and counting). It’s not just new developments that need protection from the greed – retail choice will suffer unless measures are brought in to prevent market failure.

  • Emsworthian 25th Nov '10 - 5:36pm

    It;’s rather late in the day to be going on about Tesco Towns. They are already here, dozens of them withj more to follow. Communities are unikely to have anymore say under the Pickles regime than they had with Labour. Yes there will be new freedoms like running and funding your own social services, recycling, even a post office/ Whoopee. We had a 3-year battle with tesco and lost as the council ran scared of being appealed against if they they rejected the application. Section106s have become the mainspring of local investment now.

  • I am impressed by the Save our Skyline campaign and am even going to cross Hammersmith Bridge to attend the public meeting 6 December.

    As is often the case the argument on a second issue in one post detracts from the primary issue. Here in Barnes/Mortlake the new Sainsbury doesn’t seem to detract from the newsagents business on the opposing corner- rather the opposite for the non chain coffee shop next door which has a business to die for.

  • Tom Papworth 27th Nov '10 - 4:03pm

    Gareth, it is not market failure for a shop to open in an area where there is demand. If people want to shop in Tesco, they should be free to do so. It is a failure of Liberty if others, who want another shop but cannot themselves support it, deny the would-be Tesco shoppers from having a Tesco near them and so force upon them the monopoly of the incumbant provider.

    Geoffrey, if markets allow minorities to have what they want without giving majorities a veto then good for markets. The characteristic feature of action through political channels is that it tends to requrie or enforce substantial conformity. The great advantage of the market, on the other hand, is that it permits wide diversity. It is, in political terms, a system of proportional representation. Each man can vote, as it were, for the grocery shop he wants; he does not have to shop where the majority shops. The role of the market is that it permits unanimity without conformity; the characteristic feature of political channels (including planning inquiries) is that it tends to require substantial conformity.

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