I went along to the public exhibition today of the plans for the proposed Waitrose in Bagshot encumbered by many preconceptions. I am not a fan of the appearance of the Notcutts site and I have always wished it could be more attractive. However, I’m suspicious of large businesses muscling into villages. I’m in favour of businesses which are owned by the employees but I don’t want the Co-op to suffer a loss of trade. I like the fancy products that Waitrose shops sell but I wouldn’t want any food store to gain a monopoly.
Despite my inner conflict I went to the exhibition feeling optimistic that this could be turned into something beneficial for Bagshot and the surrounding area. Incidentally, the exhibition is open tomorrow, Saturday 9 Feb 2013 from 10am to 2pm too. The plans are online here.
I’ll start in Eeyore mode by describing the concerns I have:
Most importantly, I worry about the loss of trade that the Bagshot Co-op will suffer. Co-op stores are beacons. They spread community spirit and enhance villages. I asked a rep at the exhibition if the Co-op would lose business and he admitted it would. He confessed that there was no assessment available about the scale of the loss. I should point out that, interestingly, the numerous reps here were not trying to sell the proposal, as far as I could tell, they were just listening and answering questions. I found this strangely disarming and admitted my preference to them, which I will disclose later.
Another question I asked was: would all of the staff at Waitrose be partners? I approve of the system of making Waitrose employees partners in the company but I’m worried by reports that cleaners and other contracted-out staff lose out on this. The rep couldn’t answer my question. He did assure me that the new 160 jobs would all be partners. I will continue to press for cleaners to be in-house and partners too.
A lesser concern, but one that will need addressing, is that Notcutts will be closed for 9 months during the construction. I would like to know about the welfare of the 45 employees during this period. There is statutory protection but I would hope the company can do better than that. These 45 jobs will be reinstated along with the new 160 jobs when the project is complete.
On the other hand, there are arguments in favour of the development too:
As usual, traffic tops the list of concerns in local planning. Talking to the reps and reading the material, I think this development will improve the traffic situation locally. In fact, I popped in to the exhibition on my way home from buying my weekly shopping at Tescos in Sandhurst. I went there because I had to pop into Surrey Heath Borough Council HQ on the way home. I’ll tell you why soon. If there had been a supermarket in Bagshot I wouldn’t have driven through Camberley, increasing the congestion there. The new store will be bigger than the Waitrose in Sunningdale, so adequate for a weekly shop.
I believe that this store will reduce car traffic on local roads. Regular readers will know that sustainable transport is one of my top priorities for many reasons. I was struck then to see it as the title of one of the exhibition stands. There are references to pedestrian and cycle routes and even (swoon!) charging points for electric cars. All this is right up my street and essential for equipping our villages for the future. There are references to buses but I would like to see something more radical: universal free buses in rural areas. That might be an idea whose time has not yet come but some developer’s funds could be used to promote this when the full planning application is submitted, I hope.
Another of my priorities is preserving our environment and specifically the flora and fauna on Chobham Common. One way this is done is by creating SANGS – Suitable Alternative Natural Green Space – where people can walk and walk their dogs instead of more environmentally sensitive areas. There is an area of SANGS abutting the Notcutts site. The reps talked about how people could park in the store’s car park and walk into the SANGS. This would make it more accessible, which would be great. If this makes it into the planning application I will be seriously impressed.
Like all development exhibitions, this one promises to inject funds into the local economy. In this case I find it credible. The construction will cost £14million and they promise to favour local labour. I plan to hold them to this. The 160 new jobs will inject over £1million per year into the Bagshot economy, they claim. Bagshot has, I think, 342 Council Tax Benefit claimants who will be dreadfully squeezed by SHBC’s short-sighted cut to benefits. These jobs are needed here.
Waitrose promise to donate £12,000 and 250 staff hours to local charities and projects. Bagshot needs this. We need youth provision, help for families and support for the elderly and much more besides. If Waitrose will undertake to be part of the community in specific ways, they will gain support for their application.
So, in summary, I am inclined to be in favour of the Notcutts-Waitrose development. I would like to see assurances about certain matters and much more detail, at the appropriate time, but I like what I see because it could well boost Bagshot in many ways. Tell me what you think.