By Elisabeth Winkler
You will remember how the Stokes Croft Tesco branch on Cheltenham Road became famous – it got damaged in a riot, the first of many to sweep the UK this year. Some blamed our peaceful campaign which was deeply irritating.
Thousands of Bristolians, including myself, had used legal means to stop Tesco opening a branch in one of the city’s most colourful high streets. Today, the Tesco Express is open, but looks empty. Thanks to our campaign, locals are aware of the importance of protecting their high street. Clearly, shoppers are voting with their feet.
The campaign is far from over. The High Court of Justice was in session on Monday to decide whether Bristol City Council’s decision to allow Tesco to open – without considering the extra deliveries involved – was lawful.
With the government currently trying to further deregulate the planning system, this judicial review is timely.
On Monday, it investigated a small – but significant – section of the planning decision: Bristol City Council’s failure to assess the traffic impact of Tesco’s 40-plus deliveries a week.
The council granted planning permission in November 2009 when a third party applied for change-of-use from comedy venue to “shop”. The planners did not know “shop” meant a multiple retail chain such as Tesco.
In early 2010, Tesco applied for further planning permission – including for a prefab extension to the back of the store for chiller and freezer rooms. At this point, we locals heard about the planned supermarket invasion and our campaign began.
Planning permission for a chill/freezer rooms may not seem serious but we know better. Supermarkets such as Tesco (and Asda, Morrison’s etc) depend on just-in-time deliveries to maximise retail space (and thus profits).
Unlike independent stores which store their goods in the back of the shop and have a few weekly deliveries, chain supermarkets store their goods in central depots and have frequent daily deliveries. This applies to so-called small shops such as Sainsbury’s Local or a Tesco Express – which has six daily deliveries.
Daily deliveries cause havoc. The busy Cheltenham Road (A38) has a bus and cycle lane outside Tesco, with a bus stop and congested traffic crossings either side. One local Tweeted on Monday: “Since Tesco opened on Cheltenham Road, I think I’ve never seen it without lorry or cars parked in bus lane.”
Bristol City Council had given Tesco the go-ahead last December, without a proper review of how 42 deliveries a week would affect traffic flow and public safety. Why wasn’t a traffic impact assessment done?
In my view, a full scale environmental, economic and cultural assessment needs to happen before planning permission is granted to any store. This would soon sort the wheat from the chaff: the genuinely small indy store would pass with flying colours; the mega-retailers would need conditions imposed to operate.