As news on the Tesco front goes from bad to worse,with announcements that they are moving away from building giant superstores, trading figures taking a global hit, their top man being replaced and talk of a new ‘Tesco tax’ from many towns around the country due to the clear evidence of destruction of town centres, the highly controversial Bridgwater project has been thrown into the spotlight once again.
At this weeks Full Council meeting of Sedgemoor District Council, Labour councillor Ian Tucker tabled a question asking why it is taking so long to sign off the 106 agreement, what other effort has been made by SDC or Tesco to further market the site, what measures are in place to prevent ‘landbanking’ by Tesco and what other alternatives has the council been looking at should the Tesco project fail.
Cllr Tuckers innocent questions – which are on the lips of many Bridgwater people – were met with a wall of dismissal from senior Tories and as the councillor attempted to debate the subject was all but closed down by Leader of Council McGinty and Chairman Downing.
Ian Tucker said afterward “I was far from happy about the way I was treated by the leader at full council last Wednesday. I submitted my statement and questions with written notice,understanding that by doing this the executive would have some time to give a reasonable response leading to a short debate. I was not allowed to read my short statement and was only allowed to come back at the leader once. I had very important points to make particularly when the leader claimed the chairman of Mendip District Council had told him Tesco had not made any difference to Shepton Mallet. My own research into Shepton, which included a statement from both a Mendip Councillor and the Town Clerk, did not support this. I even offered to accompany the leader to Shepton in order to get the true picture, although I had to shout this out.”
Tories wanted this item ‘over and done with’
Cllr Tucker continued “I firmly believe the Tories wanted this item over and done with as quick as possible and planned to put me down, but we need to remind people it was the Tories who have done away with town centre leisure and have let a fourth giant supermarket in.”
At the meeting, Tory leader Duncan McGinty (Con, East Polden) said that the delays were due to “Internal changes within Tesco” and that “No-one can be 100% confident if a deal will be reneged on or not but any breach could give rise to legal remedies” He further emphasised that the project “did not include a leisure option as this was not deemed commercially viable, but if there was a commercial proposal then it would be considered.”
Cllr Julian Taylor (Labour,Eastover) rose to support Cllr Tucker and demanded to know “What is the Council’s fall back position? At this rate we could end up with planning blight, landbanking and a major eyesore.”
Cllr McGinty responded “There’s no reason to think that the negotiation won’t be concluded. There was never any intention not to start until 2015 with completion in 2016. I have spoken with the leader of Mendip council and he said the Shepton Town Centre Tescos had made no difference.”
What’s the truth about Shepton?
Labour cries of “But that’s Harvey Siggs!”. Cllr Tucker ,trying to be heard above Tory attempts to move next business added “I did a survey in Shepton Mallet, including traders and Mendip Councillors and I didn’t just ask Harvey Siggs!!”
Cllr Leigh Redman (Labour,Dunwear) added after the meeting “It is concerning, but not surprising that SDC do not appear to be acting in a proactive manner to try and get a concise decision from Tesco. Based on the signals and comments coming from both the city and Tesco’s it is becoming apparent that this conglomerate company is unlikely to be moving forward in the near future on their development of the Northgate site. With the full district council up for re-election next May it is not a surprise that SDC don’t want to push Tesco’s into an announcement untill after the election.”