Tesco and Sainsbury’s supermarket battle for Saffron Walden heats up as officer’s reveal recommendations

TWO supermarket giants striving for a similar cause – expansion in Saffron Walden – could be in line for differing outcomes after council planning officers revealed their recommendations this week.

An extraordinary meeting of Uttlesford District Council’s (UDC) environment committee has been arranged for early December for a decision on the respective applications from Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

Officers have recommended that councillors approve Tesco’s bid to expand its Radwinter Road store – with a number of legal conditions attached including hefty contributions towards highways improvements – but have moved to suggest refusal of Sainsbury’s plans to build a new store on the former Granite site in Thaxted Road.

They advised that a new superstore would have a “significant adverse impact on the town centre affecting the vitality and viability” which would be exacerbated by the Tesco proposal. They add that the Tesco plans, as the smaller of the two, would result in a “benign impact” on its own.

Development surveyor Michael Morris said Sainsbury’s is disappointed by the recommendation and had hoped it would be up for approval.

“We have no intention in taking shoppers away from the town centre – if the town centre is doing poorly, we do poorly, so it is in our interests for the town centre to be thriving,” he said.

“From what we’ve been told, Tesco doesn’t have competition. We want to come here and bring choice and competition and stop some of the revenue travelling out of Uttlesford.

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“We have put lots of initiatives in place, including extenstion to the number 34 bus route and provision for funding to highways improvements. We knew that highways concerns were a problem but we did a lot of hard work with Essex County Council and the town council over the past year to overcome these and a viable solution was agreed subject to pre-commencement conditions.”

Tesco meanwhile, welcomed the officer’s report.

Spokesman Louise Gosling said “We’re delighted the planning officers have seen the benefits an expanded Tesco could bring to the town. We’re proud to have been trading successfully alongside the town centre for nearly twenty years and we now want to work harder to strengthen our ties with the local community.

“We feel this project will prevent the need for people to travel out of town to do their shopping and so will retain trade within the local area. I’m particularly pleased with the council’s findings, that our plans won’t cause problems on surrounding roads.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Saffron Walden.”

However, the campaign group set up to keep the supermarkets out of the town are livid that officer’s have chosen to recommend Tesco for approval.

Save Walden Town Centre spokesman Peter Riding said: “We are shocked by the recommendation by Uttlesford District Council planning officers for the development control committee to accept the Tesco application to increase its floor space by 55 per cent.

“Some 70 per cent of the extension would be for non-food products which would directly compete with the town centre.

“The planners have totally failed to take into account the effect on the rest of the town, traffic, air quality and the application’s non-compliance with key national, regional and local planning policies which support the social and economic vitality of town centres.

“An enlarged Tesco would generate an extra �10-20m turnover per year, virtually all drawn from the local economy. Non-food sales from the Tesco extension would represent more than 25 per cent of Saffron Walden’s total existing non-food turnover.

“All the current retail sales data show that store-based retail sales volumes are falling, and the forecasts are that they will continue to do so for at least the next two years. In the absence of any sales growth, the vast majority of the Tesco trade is going to be diverted from the town centre.

“On the basis of Tesco’s figures, it already has well over 60 per cent of Saffron Walden’s food turnover; the extension would make it close to 70 per cent, which is a huge proportion for an out of town centre store.

“Any a lower footfall in the town centre would not just affect the shops - it would also have an impact on market traders, the library, shop fitters, tradesmen, hairdressers, cafes, charity shops and even solicitors and accountants.”

The group has backed officers for recommending the Sainsbury’s application for refusal - but not fully.

“We welcome the recommendation. However, we believe that the recommendation to reject the application solely on the grounds of its impact on Waitrose and the town centre is weak in view of the other serious objections which should have been raised. These include the lack of any compelling evidence on need and the impact on traffic and air pollution in the town,” said Mr Riding.

“A new Sainsbury’s store in Thaxted Road would have a disastrous effect on the town centre. The retail consultants employed by Uttlesford District Council have said that 90 per cent of Sainsbury’s turnover would be diverted from existing shops in Saffron Walden.

“This would result in fewer people using the town centre which would lead to a downward spiral of shops closing, so even fewer people then use the town centre.

“And this is not speculation - it has already happened in Royston where, as a result of the opening of an out of centre supermarket, the town centre has many empty shops and few shoppers.”