A HEATED row broke out last night (January 9) at a meeting which saw Tesco representatives quizzed over proposals for a Northgate store.
Cllr Bob Filmer, who chaired the Development Committee session in Bridgwater Town Hall, had to ask the public to stop harassing the Tesco reps, who were there to answer pre-submitted questions from residents.
The four-hour Question and Answer Session provided committee members and those registered as ‘interested parties’ an opportunity to hear responses to submitted questions regarding the application for a Tesco Extra.
Subjects included noise pollution, a potential loss of green space, the impact on historical assets, local economy, design, flooding issues, delivery movements and traffic congestion.
Nick Gibson, who registered questions, said the Northgate development had left him and many others feeling “excluded, discriminated against and demoralised.”
Sedgemoor District Council said it had done its best to engage with the public through various consultation on the project and relating documents, such as Bridgwater Vision.
Planning Policy manager Nick Tate referred to the Bridgwater Vision document as identifying the Northgate and Docks area an ‘an extension of the town centre’. He also said the town centre Policy P2 identified Northgate for ‘retail led schemes’.
Many people who submitted questions were also concerned the project, which includes seven other commercial units planned for Northgate, would have a negative impact on trade in the town.
Tesco argued it would draw in up to £2.6million per annum to the town centre for local traders, since the project will offer three hours free parking. Tesco hopes shoppers will head into town and do their grocery shopping in one journey.
Questions also brought up the issue of whether jobs would be created for local people as part of the development. Tesco said this would be secured through labour agreements under legal obligations.
Others criticised the potential jobs created by Tesco as not having enough room to progress. But Melanie Chiswell, corporate affairs manager for Tesco, said at the meeting information she had obtained from Job Centre Plus suggested 70% of people looking for work in Sedgemoor were looking for retail jobs.
She said the project will ensure 260 jobs will be available – 1/3 of which will be part time. Training will be provided and employees will be assessed on ‘attitude, rather than qualifications’.
Part of Cllr Ian Tucker’s questions related to concerns that some 11% of the Brewery Field will be built on in relation to the application, saying the field was currently used as ‘a free and easy play area.’ Tesco argued the area would be enhanced, with improvements made to the current play facilities. These included facilities for toddlers and young children, a football pitch, extra tree planning and footpaths.
In a statement Cllr Tucker said: “An area such as this being enhanced can mean different things to different people.
“To have nice laid out lawns, water features and wooden park seats may be good for older people, but will not be viewed as an enhancement for youngsters who want to let off steam with a football.”
It emerged at the meeting that Tesco is currently negotiating the possibility of the Brewery Field being gifted to a third party to ensure it is kept as public open space.
By the end of the session, the public were demanding another meeting to allow them to speak directly with the Tesco representatives and with the development committee.
The Development Control Committee will compile a report, taking into account what they heard last night, for the next development committee meeting on February 12.
• To stay on top of the latest news from meetings, follow our reporters @MercuryKJames, @MercMCollege or @BWMercury on Twitter or find us on Facebook.