Sir George said he was amazed at the letter sent by the Corporate Director of Tesco's to Test Valley Borough Councillors. (The text of the letter appears below)
"This application for development on Andover Airfield was made by Goodman's, who are the owners of the site and who have applied for planning consent. On September 1st, I was at the Lights for the Northern Area Planning Committee meeting and I heard Gerald Knight, on behalf of Goodmans, urge councillors to vote for the application that was before them."
"The recommendations by officials that the application should be accepted was accompanied by a number of conditions. Those conditions did not come as a surprise to Goodmans; on the contrary, they had been the subject of months of negotiations between Goodmans and TVBC, Hampshire County Council and the Highways Agency. Goodmans made it clear that, as owner of the site and as the developer, they were happy to abide by them. Indeed at the meeting, they offered to go further. Only with those conditions in place were officers prepared to recommend acceptance."
"At the same time as Goodmans were conducting these negotiations, they were in very close contact with Tesco's. This is not a speculative development for anyone - this is a tailor-made proposal for Tesco's - Goodman's prospective tenant - who will lease the Megashed from them if it is ever built. All the negotiations were conducted by Goodmans on the basis of traffic flows, logistics and mode of operation provided by Tescos. Councillors were invited to visit a comparable Tesco operation in the Midlands. Tesco have attended some of the meetings relevant to this proposal."
"Now, out of the blue, we get this email from Tesco saying they 'would have difficulty operating in Andover under these stipulations.'"
"The question that immediately arises is this. When Goodman's advised councillors to vote for the proposals with the conditions, did Goodmans know that they might prove unacceptable to their customer?"
"Whatever the answer, the conclusion is an awkward one. Either Goodmans knew that Tesco would want the conditions weakened - in which case, why did they sign up to them? I hope they were not seeking to secure agreement to the proposal in September and build up momentum, and then use this to get conditions relaxed at a later stage. Or they didn't know, in which case, what exactly have they been discussing with each other as the proposals were worked up? I believe Goodmans owe everyone an explanation as to exactly what is going on."
"Nor is it clear to me what locus Tesco have in the dialogue with TVBC. They are neither the owner nor the applicant. TVBC have properly been discussing and negotiating with Goodmans, with whom they should continue to have any dialogue. When Tesco say they want to 'discuss a sensible way forward', what they mean is they want to erode the conditions which the planners had insisted on and which their landlord had agreed to. Tesco are not just taking on the councillors who voted to reject the application - the majority - they are also taking on those who voted for it, with conditions attached."
"This all underlines the risk of having one major employer on the airfield - the local community is vulnerable to that employer's requests and decisions. Far better to have a mix of employers in a broadly based Business Park, as originally proposed."
"Finally, what exactly is the purpose of the meeting of the Planning Control Committee on December 1st? Are they going to deliberate on a proposal which has not future? Are they going to look at a different one - in which case, should not the planning process begin again. The whole thing is beginning to look like an enormous muddle."
Text of Letter from Tescos to Borough Councillors
We are contacting you in the first instance as a Test Valley Borough Councillor about concerns we have with some of the restrictions proposed for the Goodman development, if agreed by the Council, at Andover Airfield.
We have written to the Council's Planning Department setting out our concerns and asking to meet. We want to occupy the proposed Distribution Centre at Andover Airfield. But we want to be able to operate it so we want to get this right.
We remain committed to making a major investment in Andover. However, some of the proposed Section 106 planning obligations and planning conditions can only be described as "onerous" and under the current proposed restrictions, Tesco would have difficulty operating in Andover under these stipulations. This is a problem that has to be solved.
We have tried to come up with suggested solutions to overcome these concerns. We hope you will consider them and discuss them as appropriate.
The key issues are:
The Green Travel Plan – ‘employees living within 2km cannot use their car to go to work at the site’.
Fining system – starting on day one of operation.
Supplier’s Vehicles – the inclusion of suppliers HGVs in the routeing agreement fine system.
HGV Reversing Alarms – the use of white noise beepers during curfew hours.
HGV barred routes – the barring of the A338 for Swindon store deliveries and the use of mobile cameras to check routes.
We believe that changes are needed, based on our experience of the distribution industry over many years.
The issue: The proposed travel plan states that no employees living within 2 km can use their cars to travel to work at the site, which would see people living in a significant proportion of the town's area banned from driving to the site.
Tesco believes this may end up discriminating against some local people who may feel themselves barred from taking jobs at the site. Would you want to walk home at 10 pm in winter after finishing an evening shift? Travelling home at night is of particular concern with regard to female employees.
Our suggested solution: Tesco would be keen to work with employees, the Council and local public transport providers to encourage active participation in a practical Green Travel Plan. We would rather encourage behavioural change rather than force staff to comply. We know this can work.
For example, we have been working on a green travel plan at our Peterborough Distribution Centre in conjunction with the local Council since the centre opened three years ago. Peterborough has gained level four accreditation for its travel plan, and is now looking to pursue level five. Here we have reduced single occupancy car journeys from 53% to 34% in the last year alone. On top of this over 17% of staff now cycle to work and over a quarter share cars. We have a website set up that we would ask you have a look at: http://www.tescocarshare.com.
Routeing agreement – fines on day one
The issue: When any new operation begins there are always teething problems. We are realistic that it may take us a couple of weeks to get the routeing of our HGVs right. We are concerned that we are going to be harshly penalised for "teething troubles" in this period.
Our suggested solution: Tesco have total control over its our own vehicles as the whole fleet is fitted with Isotrack tracking devices. We would like to ask the Council for an initial six week amnesty to enable smooth running prior to the implementation of the fining system. Tesco wants to get it right and ensure Tesco vehicles originating from the Distribution Centre on this site, delivering to stores, are controlled.
The issue: Tesco have explained previously that we have no explicit control over the routeing of our third party suppliers' vehicles, the majority of the vehicles which will be making deliveries to (not from) the proposed Distribution Centre. Approximately 300 different hauliers and/or local suppliers will supply a facility such as that proposed.
Our contracts with suppliers do not and cannot govern the routeing of their preferred hauliers to the proposed site. The issue is often that these suppliers or hauliers are en route between different customers located throughout the country. i.e. a local supplier or haulier may deliver to us, then to another company's distribution centre such as Morrisons or ASDA that is quickest to get to on barred routes. How would this be controlled, what would we do, who is responsible?
Our suggested solution: We can use our reasonable endeavours to guide, recommend and propose the routeing that supplier vehicles take to the proposed site, which will work in most instances. But we cannot dictate routeing. Should Tesco or any other business be held responsible for another company's actions?
HGV Reversing Alarms (Beepers)
The issue: A Section 106 Planning Obligation condition has been suggested that ‘any HGV using the site should be fitted, from the start of operation, with a white noise beeper'. This matter was originally intended to be dealt with by Condition 31 in the Committee Report, requiring this to happen between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am.
Our suggested solution: We can do better. Tesco can confirm we can operate with the beepers switched off within the boundaries of the Distribution Centre and could do this between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am as suggested. We have other Distribution Centres which are very near housing where this policy is currently operated and we know it can work.
HGV barred routes
For the majority of the barred routeing, although those stipulations impose extremely onerous conditions for Tesco, we can control our own HGV movements and therefore could live with the restrictions. We understand the importance local people have put on this. However, there are two areas of concern that we want to address.
The issue: The Committee report included the Northbound A338 at the A303 junction as a primary barred route. The issue is deliveries to Swindon via this route. This restriction would add an additional 40 miles per delivery to our stores in Swindon. We do not think that this is sensible, for the road network or for the environment.
Our suggested solution: We would not use the Northbound A338 for general access to the M4 but would to service our stores in Swindon only. We would operate in a considerate manner which would not cause impact on residents using this proposed barred route and we would cover fewer HGV road miles than at presently suggested.
Did you know to service our stores in Andover they receive deliveries from HGVs travelling on the barred routes? Andover stores are supplied by our centre in Magor, South Wales for grocery goods and Southampton for fresh food. In one week in September vehicle movements on the barred routes were 79 to the stores and a further 79 away from the stores, 158 in total. We operate this every week, as far as we are aware without complaint.
The issue: It was suggested and agreed at the Committee Meeting that there would be monitoring of other routes by the use of mobile cameras. We believe that this is not an approach which is conducive to the management and operation of any distribution business. We are unsure how it would be managed and by whom? How would it distinguish between a HGV coming from our Southampton Distribution Centre for example rather than from Andover? What if it was one of the 300 hauliers that supply Tesco but that were delivering on behalf of ASDA or Sainsbury that day?
Our suggested solution: Much work needs to be done by the Council on whether this is practical and workable.
We really do want to invest in Andover, and wanted to draw these restrictions to your attention now so we can discuss a sensible way forward. We operate many distribution centres successfully in the UK and believe there is a way to provide a consent that is both workable and commercially viable whilst respecting the views of those affected by the proposed development.
Thanks for your time.
Tesco Corporate Affairs Manager