Council fallout with Tesco over “The Brooks Centre” raises concerns over future co-operation

Bradley Stoke Town Council logoWith the “Battle of the Bowls” seemingly locked in stalemate, Bradley Stoke Town Council (BSTC) last week opened up a new line of conflict, with the issuing of a press release related to a planning application for advertising signs at the new town centre. The opponents this time are not a group of elderly residents frustrated at the imposition of staggering rental increases on their bowling green, but the mighty supermarket chain Tesco (2007 profit: £2.864 billion).

Last week’s press release came the morning after the monthly Planning Committee meeting on Wednesday night, at which a planning application (PT08/0781/ADV) from Tesco had been discussed. We are told the committee voted unanimously to oppose the application on the grounds that:

  • The logo shown on the proposed signs is too similar to that of South Gloucestershire Council.
  • The name “The Brooks Centre” (chosen by Tesco and also shown on the proposed signs) is similar to that of the Brook Way Activity Centre, located some way from the town centre.

The press release goes on to express the Council’s displeasure that Tesco did not consult the community in choosing a name for the new town centre, with Councillor John Ashe quoted as saying that local school children had been promised a competition to gather names.

The Council’s comments follow news that Tesco has chosen to call the development “The Brooks Centre”, without consulting local people.

Research by The Journal has pinpointed a Planning Committee meeting on 16th May 2007, attended by Tesco’s media relations consultant Dan Bramwell, as being crucial to the issues involved. The minutes of this meeting, in a section headed “Naming the New Town Centre”, are as follows:

“Mr Bramwell was keen to involve the community and sought ideas as to how this might be achieved. In discussion it was agreed that Bradley Stoke Matters should be asked to play a major role and Tesco would also prepare A5 flyers with architect’s pictures on one side and competition details on the reverse. The overall winner would have a personal prize and be invited to nominate one of the Town’s schools to receive a further award, both to be provided by Tesco, subject to their confirmation.”

Radio Bristol logoRadio Bristol featured the row on Friday morning, with Councillor Robert Jones representing the Council and Dan Bramwell the views of Tesco. Councillor Jones described the chosen name as “heartless and soulless” and referred to a press release issued in December 2007 (actually it was 30th November) in which Tesco promised to hold a competition to select the name. Mr Bramwell denied that a promise had been made (he seemed to be unaware of the content of the Tesco press release), although he acknowledged that a competition had been discussed.

Mr Bramwell also claimed that he had contacted BSTC on 17th March 2008 to inform them that a decision had been made by Tesco and there would consequently be no competition. He also stated that the previously discussed (but not promised) competition would have been for the whole community and not just for schoolchildren (this point is confirmed by the minutes of the Council meeting). To stage a competition now would “delay the building of the town centre”, he added.

BBC Online also covered the dispute in an article whose first sentence read: “Supermarket giant Tesco is being accused of breaking promises to school pupils in a row over a new store”.

South Gloucestershire Council logoIn later developments, The Journal has discovered that South Gloucestershire Council’s (SGC) consultation period for the planning application closed on 15th April. This would appear to mean that the objections raised on 23rd April by BSTC cannot be considered by the SGC planning department. A BSTC spokesperson denied this would be the case, saying that “SGC will include our submissions in their deliberations provided they arrive before the appropriate meeting”. We’re not so sure this is the case and it was interesting to see that a Circulated Schedule Report appeared on the SGC website on 25th April stating that “no response” has been received from BSTC and recommending that the planning application be approved. In any case, it is likely that BSTC’s objections will be deemed irrelevant, as the exact details of text and images displayed on advertising signs does not generally require specific approval. Target date for final approval is given on the SGC website as 2nd May.

The Journal Comments:

The fact that this matter has flared into a very public spat between BSTC and Tesco is very concerning. Whilst there can be no doubt that Tesco did indeed promise a competition for the name of the new town centre, it is misleading of the Council to claim that the competition was to have been for schoolchildren – this appears to be a deliberate misreprentation of the truth intended to sensationalise the issue.

The minutes of last year’s planning meeting clearly state that BSTC and Tesco agreed to co-operate in the running of the competition, but it appears that the Council has done absolutely nothing and simply sat on its hands, waiting for Tesco to drive things forward. Why, when nothing had been heard early into 2008, didn’t the Council contact Tesco to find out what was going on? And why was there no reaction from BSTC when they received news from Tesco on 17th March that the competition had been abandoned?

Here at The Journal we have grave concerns as to whether the residents of Bradley Stoke are going to get any non-retail community facilities at all in our new town centre. As discussed in our “Has a Council presence been shelved” article of 23rd March, we are particularly concerned about the lack of news about progress on the provision of a council drop-in centre in the development. BSTC have refused to comment and SGC have only been able to confirm that “a combined council drop-in centre remains in the plans”. We would like to see evidence that both Councils are being proactive in pursuing the necessary discussions and not simply sitting on their hands as BSTC have done over the naming issue. Failure to act now may result in Tesco letting the unit allocated for the drop-in centre to a commercial tenant instead.

Local website sadlybroke got very excited on Friday, when they “revealed” sight of the Tesco press release in which the promise of a naming competition was made. Of course, the “revelation” was nothing of the sort for readers of The Journal, who have had access to the press release in our dedicated New Town Centre pages since 17th February. Our “New town centre is The Brooks” article on 10th April drew attention to the promise in connection with our discovery that “The Brooks” name was being used in commercial marketing literature for the centre.

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