This article originally appeared on andyclark57.wordpress.com
So now the dust has settled (a little bit any way), what have we learned from yesterday’s announcement? Firstly, we are luckier than some places. Spare a thought for the Council, people and traders in Cheshunt. With the announcement of Tesco ‘relocating’ their head office, telegraph.co.uk are reporting that ‘the local economy will also be hit by the loss of consumer and corporate spend in the area’. It appears that this decision came out of the blue; at least most of us were expecting yesterday’s decision by Tesco, it was a case of when rather than if. We have already gone through a similar scenario when Glaxo ceased operating in the town.
As reported by kentonline.co.uk, Gareth Johnson, MP is quoted as saying “It brings to an end a sorry tale for the town. But at least the one positive is that there is finally some closure and we can look to the future of Lowfield Street and want we want for that area. Dartford will not be sorry to see the back of Tesco.” Well Mr Johnson, I beg to differ. What closure is there? All we know is that there will not be a Tesco supermarket in Lowfield Street. We don’t know what Spenhill/Tesco will do with the part of the site they own; will they proceed with the building of the flats, etc.; will they ask Dartford Borough Council to proceed with the compulsory purchase of the parts of the site they don’t yet own; will they try and sell the property they own ‘as is’ to another party? However, it is encouraging that Mr Johnson knows ‘what we want for that area’. Perhaps he would like to share his views with the electorate of Dartford.
It is also interesting that Mr Lewis of Tesco chose to write to Mr Johnson rather than Councillor Kite. I may be wrong but it seems to me, that Mr Johnson has not been involved in any depth with any discussions with Spenhill/Tesco; from my understanding most, if not all of the discussions have involved Councillors Kite and Prout. If this is in fact the case, why has Mr Johnson not been involved? Is it because he wasn’t really interested in the subject or that he thought Councillors Kite and Prout could do a better job or was he quite happy for the flak to go to DBC rather himself when Tesco pulled out? Was he ‘warned off’ by anyone at DBC as it was considered a Borough rather than constituency matter?
It is not clear whether DBC received a copy of the Tesco letter. Councilor Kite in recent months has referred to meetings with Tesco being ‘fractious’. Hopefully he has not burned any bridges as a result of these fractious meetings.
In the same report from kentonline.co.uk, it states ‘Cllr Kite added that he had been approached by other “interested parties”, including supermarket chains, other retailers, and housing developers, registering their interest in the site in the event of a pull-out by Tesco.’ I wonder if these are recent enquiries or of more historic interest. Perhaps Councillor Kite might like to expand on these comments – obviously if they are commercially sensitive, details may not be forthcoming. Also, if Mr Johnson has his views on what he would like to see happen to Lowfield Street, perhaps Councillor Kite would like to tell us his preferred options and those of the Conservative group.
Dartford Labour group do not come out off this whole sorry saga with any credit. Apart from one Labour Councillor abstaining in one vote, I am not aware of any objections from Labour at any Council meeting in the recent past. Last year, they carried out a Town Centre Survey. I don’t believe the results of this exercise have ever been made public. Perhaps now is the time to reveal the details and whilst they are about it, how about telling residents what their preferred option would be for Lowfield Street. To date, all they seem to have done is whine about the Conservative Council’s ‘lack of plan B’, without giving any alternatives themselves.
While we await for the above parties to come up with their proposals, I’ll throw one in myself. There may be reasons why this may not be practical, but here goes. This suggestion is based upon the premise that DBC have not burned their bridges with Spenhill/Tesco.
The original plans for development included the Fairfield Pool area. This is at present being redeveloped and is already eight months late and £3 million over budget. There is a need for more social/council housing in Dartford. Why not immediately halt this redevelopment (someone else called it a vanity project) and start discussions with Spenhill/Tesco about developing the whole site using the most recent application for Spenhill/Tesco housing and the remaining area used to develop social/council housing. This would mean relocating the Glentworth Club; but that was in a previous specification.
If this is not acceptable, let the above parties come up with something better.