Sainsburys proposal to build a new store off Junction 9 of the M5 on the A46 at Ashchurch has certainly started to stir the thoughts of many in the area and not least of all amongst Residents within the Ashchurch with Walton Cardiff Ward which borders the site.
With significant housing development sites proposed within the Options of the ‘Preferred Option for a Joint Core Strategy’ (JCS) in the area, some could argue that Sainsburys are undertaking a timely and highly opportune step. Others are already drawing battle lines upon the damage which they speculate such a store would inflict upon the businesses and economy of central Tewkesbury and it is perfectly natural that such concerns need not only to be aired, but considered properly too.
As a local Elected Member, I am concerned about the impact that such a Store would have upon the lives of people living within my Ward, but also recognise that there would also be many advantages to the development coming to the area, not least in terms of the reduced travel requirement for the many local people who currently shop at the Tewkesbury Road Store on the A4019 in Cheltenham – a point not lost upon Sainsburys themselves, who readily placed information boards about the Project for their customers within the entrance of that Store.
Perhaps my biggest concern right now would be the public perception that the JCS will be adopted and that as such, the closure of Ashchurch Camp is not only a foregone conclusion, but also imminent – which at the time of publishing this Blog, it most definitely is not – and that nearby Fiddington is also sure to become host to yet another urban sprawl of the soulless nature you need only travel a few miles to witness at the North of Bishops Cleeve in the Homelands Developments.
Whilst there is a big question to be answered regarding the continuing growth in out-of-town supermarkets, I am considering this specific Proposal in terms of its impact upon the immediate area itself and therefore in isolation, rather than as part of the considerably more complicated issue of retail market share, the growth of supermarket chains and what this will mean for us all in the future. I will perhaps talk about this in a different entry.
On a practical level, study the Plans which Sainsburys have submitted to Tewkesbury Borough Council and you will quickly note that proposed changes to the A46 could create absolute mayhem with the construction of a roundabout which is clearly planned with more focus upon entry to the Store than it is in consideration of the flow of traffic in either direction.
With the Plans making no mention on the impact of additional traffic and a questionable change to traffic flow on an already difficult staggered Northway and Fiddington junction with the A46 – only part of which is light controlled – one has to wonder just how much consideration has been given to the already hideous traffic problems that we already experience, not least of all since the Highways Agency added light-controls onto Junction 9 making peak-time travel in the area a monotonous task to say the least.
On the upside, the addition of a Supermarket which really has been thought out in terms of its impact upon local infrastructure and the wider community would also bring a variety of benefits to a customer base which would go way beyond Tewkesbury and in all likelihood bring shoppers to the area who would not currently travel there and perhaps leave the M5 for any other reason.
With fuel prices keeping us all very concerned, the arrival of a new Petrol Station opposite the BP Site would certainly drive local prices down and potentially create other opportunities for smaller businesses to attract the passing custom into Tewkesbury itself which will be drawn to such a facility.
Those concerned about businesses in Tewkesbury could well be right about a loss of jobs and business closures and neither event would be one that I would wish to see in any event. But a Sainsburys in Ashchurch would arguably facilitate a massive net gain in employment, not least of all for those people seeking part-time work that may currently be impractical to consider with a shortage of this type of work available on such a scale locally.
Looking at the Plans and what they will mean for local people, on balance, a Sainsburys which has been built in consideration of its impact on the wider community – and not just within a few yards of the front gate, could well prove to be a significant boost for the area.
Whilst there are questions that require answers and issues to be resolved, working with the Company now to address these concerns to the satisfaction and mutual gain of all would perhaps be a very sensible plan indeed. It is after all in Sainsburys interests to be seen to support the communities which ‘feed’ custom into it’s Stores and Tewkesbury Town businesses could do a lot worse than to discuss the role of a new Store within the local economy in parallel with the Application Process, even as they make their arguments for its rejection.
As a local Borough Councillor representing Ashchurch with Walton Cardiff, it is in fact Highways issues that concern me most of all as the Application goes forward. I see nothing good coming to the Residents I represent from the road changes as they have so far been proposed and would go as far to say that it would not be good news for anyone who uses the A46 and roads that join from the Business Parks, from Fiddington, Northway or in fact Tewkesbury itself.
If Sainsburys are serious about winning support, they will have to raise their game considerably in considering the traffic and community issues that its construction would generate and demonstrate to us all that they have done so. The Store could prove be a great addition to the local economy; but a development like this needs to consider each aspect of the impact it will have on the lives and businesses it will affect and not just the effort it takes their customers to shop.