After months of secrecy and rumour Tesco have finally confirmed they’re not coming to Bridgwater. In a letter today to Westover Councillor Brian Smedley , Corporate Affairs manager for Tesco South West, Joe Chapman ,wrote “we’re announcing today that we are unable to proceed with 49 new planned store developments across the country, including our planned store in Bridgwater.“
This poorly guarded revelation has been in the public domain since just before Christmas when the Somerset Labour Website reported that the Somerset County Council website had confirmed that Tesco would now not be coming . This first official acknowledgement of the fact imediatly caused much panic at the offices of Sedemoor District Council where members had been under orders not to reveal anything about the story.
Four Wasted Years of kowtowing to one developer
Councillor Brian Smedley said “This finally brings to an end 4 wasted years of Tory Sedgemoor kowtowing to one developer and trying to railroad through a project that was unwanted by the majority of local people, destroying a popular town centre attraction the Sedemoor Splash, and now floundering on the rocks of their own flagship policy. Questions need to be asked publically now about the unneccesary regime of secrecy that had been imposed on councillors by Sedgemoor when both Somerset County and now Tesco themselves were able to go public. In the least it makes Sedgemoor look a tad draconian. After all this time only now are we able to finally relook at this land and move to a form of development that will be acceptable to the community. “
Cllr Smedley continued “We’ve asked Sedgemoor for years what Plan B would be-and they never had one. The Labour alternative has been consistent. We opposed the closure and demolition of the Splash – some of us even occupied the place to try to prevent it. We have argued throughout that we want to preserve the green space, limit the development to something compatible with and not harmful to the town centre and to include a key leisure led aspect . In this respect we welcome the Bridgwater Mercury’s survey this week where this option is coming out as a huge favourite. The next step is to get Sedgemoor face to face with the many community groups that have campaigned against this unwanted development throughout these years, that includes the Labour controlled Town Council, Bridgwater Forward, the Trades Union Council, Westover residents, the Civic Society and all the individuals who have come up with far more inspiring alternative uses than Sedgemoor Tories ever have.“
Sedgemoor finally admits Tesco not coming
A statement by Sedgemoor District Council today in response to the Tesco statement said “As announced by Tesco Stores Ltd in the media today, the company has confirmed that it is not planning to progress its development of the Northgate site in Bridgwater, along with other sites across the country. Legal discussions on a settlement with Sedgemoor District Council and Somerset County Council are still on-going and various ‘sign-off’s and agreements by Tesco Stores Ltd Board and council members are required to conclude the discussions. In December, Sedgemoor District Council authorised its officers to conclude the discussions. The County Council Officer Key Decision scheduled for today is to authorise its officers to do the same.Once discussions on a settlement are concluded, both councils will need to decide what to do with the site. It will not be an immediate decision.”
The Councils signed a Development Agreement on 5 October 2011 which protects the legal interests of the Councils. As the s106 was never signed, therefore the planning permission was not issued, the land remains in the ownership of the councils (60% Sedgemoor and 40% Somerset County Council).
Was Sedgemoor’s gagging order politically motivated?
Labour councillor Ian Tucker (Bridgwater Dunwear) said “The order for SDC councillors to keep the whole Tesco saga confidential is still bugging me and I therefore certainly wish this issue raised at the next corporate directors meeting.”
Ian Tucker continued “Although SCC in my opinion are incompetent and not fit for purpose in most areas they are involved in, their decision to go public does raise some very important questions. I was told by SDC that in no circumstances can I even confirm to members of the public that Tesco is not coming.”
“So was SDC’s gagging order political? I hope now that we can have a meaningful debate soon, get some action points together and ensure the public that we are interested. I would like to stress that although Northgate is owned by SDC and SCC the people of Bridgwater MUST have a say on what sort of development goes on it. In fact the councils administer this land on behalf of the people of Bridgwater.”
The full text of the Tesco letter
Dear Cllr Smedley
I wanted to write to update you on our planned new superstore in Northgate, Bridgwater.
As you will have read in the media, our performance as a business has fallen significantly short of where we would want it to be. As a result the financial resources we have available for new investment are severely constrained and we have had to critically review all current and future investment decisions.
Our absolute imperative has to be to protect the future of our business for the c. 300,000 colleagues we employ in communities all over the UK. In recent weeks we have had to face up to some very tough decisions which affect many hard-working people. We don’t do that lightly and so it is with a heavy heart that we’re announcing today that we are unable to proceed with 49 new planned store developments across the country, including our planned store in Bridgwater.
We are very sorry that we have not been able to deliver the investment that we intended. I know this news is a real disappointment to some people in your community and we are extremely grateful for the support we have received for our plans.
We are very aware of the importance of the site to the local community and are determined to continue to work hard to find a solution.
We will be in touch via phone call over the course of the coming days to answer your questions.
If I can be of any further assistance, please do let me know.
Corporate Affairs Manager – Tesco South West
New Tesco House, Delamare Road, Cheshunt, EN8 9SL