Monday, 16 July 2018

Villagers lose fight against Tesco store

TESCO has been given the go-ahead to open a new branch in Goring.

TESCO has been given the go-ahead to open a new branch in Goring.

South Oxfordshire District Council has granted full planning permission for the supermarket chain to convert the former Queen’s Arms pub into an Express convenience store.

At a meeting on Wednesday last week, the authority’s planning committee sided with their officers’ recommendations to approve the scheme.

The retailer bought the premises from Greene King in late 2013 and already had permission for “minor works” such as signage. It didn’t need consent to use the existing building because it is covered by permitted development rights.

However, it also wanted to extend it by about 40 per cent to create a 2,830 shop floor as well as a service yard, a chiller storage area to the rear and 14 car parking places.

Opponents had argued the site in Reading Road, at the junction with Gatehampton Road and Wallingford Road, was unsafe because of narrow pavements leading up to it.

These are only a couple of feet wide in places and two people with prams, buggies or shopping carts would struggle to pass each other without stepping in the road. They also claimed the company would use large delivery lorries and these would stop at the roadside, blocking views of the junction and causing traffic jams.

Tesco says it will use smaller, rigid vans rather than articulated lorries but campaigners said it had broken similar promises in other villages including Cholsey.

Almost 200 people commented on the application and more than three-quarters were against it.

Objectors included Goring Parish Council, which echoed campaigners’ road safety concerns and said the new store would threaten the viability of the village’s independent businesses.

However, Oxfordshire County Council’s highways officers didn’t believe the shop would pose a hazard.

The planning officers said an agreement could be drawn up to ban delivery lorries driving through the village centre and ensure they visited at less busy times, allowing them to pull into the store’s car park.

They said Tesco could extend the building by a smaller margin under permitted development rights as long as it first opened a shop on the existing footprint. They said the company would probably do this if the application was refused so, by approving it, the council could offset its impact through conditions.

The officers said: “The development provides an additional facility for the village. The main food spending is outside the village and this will claw back some of that and reduce car-borne trips out.

“The likely impact on existing businesses is recognised but this is not considered significantly harmful, particularly when a retail store can be created here [without requiring  permission].”

Rob Jones, chairman of Stop Tesco in Goring, spoke against the application at the meeting.

Afterwards, he said: “Sadly, our pleas fell on deaf ears. We doubt whether, in practice, the district council has the necessary resources or the inclination to enforce any conditions.

“We’re extremely disappointed that the council hasn’t taken a more robust attitude. Almost 80 per cent of respondents were against it.

“The scheme’s supporters call themselves the ‘silent majority’ but they’ve had plenty of time to speak up and haven’t done so.”

Mr Jones said Tesco might still pull out, as it did a few weeks after winning a planning appeal over a pub outside Stourport last year and then deciding a shop would be not viable.

He said a “well-placed” source had claimed Sainsbury’s looked into buying the Queen’s Arms in 2012 but didn’t believe it could turn a profit.

Mr Jones said: “Tesco may yet decide the economics don’t stack up. They should listen to the overwhelming voice of the community that doesn’t want it.”

Councillor Kevin Bulmer, chairman of Goring Parish Council, said: “I’m disappointed that the planning committee didn’t ask more questions on the highways issues but I’m pleased that they’ve added some conditions.

“The county’s highways officers didn’t think there was much difference in vehicle movements to a shop as opposed to a pub but it’s completely different and they should have erred on the side of caution.

“However, quite a few villagers are in favour of the scheme — not everyone’s against it.

“I’ll be pleased to see something happen with that site as it has been derelict for three years. It has been a long battle and hopefully we can put this behind us and move forward.

“The next steps are in Tesco’s hands. You would think they would pursue it this far unless they planned to go ahead with it.”

Alan Winchcomb, of Milldown Avenue, Goring, who spoke at the meeting in favour of the application, said: “I spoke not to represent Tesco but to express the feelings of the silent majority.

“They want better local shopping facilities that will reduce the need to travel and will serve the needs of people, particularly the elderly and disabled, who are unable to get easily to other towns to do their shopping.

“So, on behalf of the elderly, disabled and less well-off residents of Goring and Streatley, I am very pleased that the council approved Tesco’s application.”

A Tesco spokesman said it was too soon to say when the shop might open.

He added: “We are pleased with the decision and we look forward to serving people in Goring.”

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