The Whittlesey Shopping Experience

07:46 Wednesday 29th August 2012
Peterborough Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY GALL: Residents of Whittlesey could be one step closer to getting a big supermarket. It’s to be decided at a planning meeting at Fenland District Council whether Sainsburys or Tesco will be given the go-ahead to build on Eastrea Road. The rival bids between the retail giants have been going on for months. Cllr Martin Curtis is from Whittlesey and joins us now. So what do you think about both the bids then, put in by these two behemoths of supermarkets?
MARTIN CURTIS: Well I have a favour towards the Sainsburys application, but I’ll be glad when today’s over. We can start moving forward. Although I suspect there’s a court case coming after today as well.
ANDY GALL: Well you’ve given us a lot there. So you’ve got a favour towards Sainsburys, and you sniff a court case coming. What’s the reasons behind that?
MARTIN CURTIS: Well, supermarkets have got a reputation for taking things to court, and both of them have invested a lot of money in these potential applications. So I don’t think the planning decision today will end it. But for me, The Sainburys store, which comes with a country park offer, which is a massive attraction to Whittlesey people as well, offers a lot more for Whittlesey than just a Tesco.
ANDY GALL: It’s very interesting, isn’t it? We’re living in a time now where to get your bid accepted to build a supermarket, you have to offer a broad spectrum of other opportunities. You’re talking about a country park as well.
MARTIN CURTIS: There is. There’s a country park offer and some good connection with the town centre. I think that’s right. I think the country park comes down to more than that. One of the reasons that I think that country park offer is there is that a gentleman behind the Sainsburys bid is a local man who has quite a passion for Whittlesey as well. What he claims is that this is something he’s been working on for a number of years, to deliver this country park. And we’ve got to recognise lack of open space in Whittlesey.
ANDY GALL: You sometimes more often than not hear people being cynical about plans for one of these big branded supermarkets coming to their area. Because people want to .. there’s more of an instinct now to protect small bespoke shops. Why the different attitude here?
MARTIN CURTIS: Well there is a real .. I did a big survey around my county council division. I delivered a survey to every one of 3,200 houses. And one of the things that came back out of that survey was people care passionately about the town centre. But they desperately want a supermarket. And there’s a couple of reasons for that. The first one is that actually the Co-op in town does not offer value, and people see themselves, being blunt about it, being ripped off by that part of our town centre offer. But they care absolutely passionately that we try and preserve our town centre, but they want to shop in Whittlesey with a supermarket. At the moment, they’re going off into Peterborough. They’re going to March. They’re going to Ramsey to do the main shopping. And actually what they want to do is do that in Whittlesey. And so people do care about our town centre. One of the messages that came out of my survey is we have to make sure we do everything we can to a,  get a supermarket, but b,  do everything we can to protect the town centre.
ANDY GALL: The way in which people have been asked for their views is interesting. William in Whittlesey got in touch with us. I mentioned it a bit earlier. And he says. “everyone in Whittlesey has had a mailing vote, so that they should all get what they want.” Is that right? Everyone’s had their own moment to express which one they’d prefer?
MARTIN CURTIS: I wouldn’t say every one. But I put a leaflet out through every door, which asked for people’s preference on a supermarket, but also trying to get underneath it and ask for the reasons for that decision as well. Because bear in mind, although there’s a clear expression from that survey, I got a 14% response rate, which most councils would scream out for . What came out of that quite clearly was that the people of Whittlesey prefer the Sainsburys. But one of the issues with the planning decision is that it has to have a basis in planning. It has to be a strong planning decision. Unfortunately, and I know people don’t like this, the truth is that public opinion is only one aspect of that. And it’s the reasons behind that public opinion that are important for this afternoon.
ANDY GALL: And isn’t it just as important that there is a supermarket, irrespective of which brand of supermarket it is, to bring more jobs to the area?
MARTIN CURTIS: I think it’s important there is a supermarket. That’s very very clear. But it also has to be the right offer. And for me the Tesco offer does nothing in terms of protecting the town centre. The Sainsburys offer has offered a half-hourly hopper bus, which will provide connectivity with the town centre. They’ve also agreed to include Whittlesey in a programme called “all the little shops”, which is to try and protect and enhance town centres as well. So I think that the Sainsburys offer, as well as offering the country park. offers more to protect our town centre, and do things for our town.
ANDY GALL: I imagine though that if Tesco, knowing Tesco as we do, I’m sure that they’re thinking of a way in which to retaliate to Sainsburys offer. And it could get to the point where it’s like some kind of Ealing comedy, where they offer the most ridiculously flamboyant parklands etcetera, etcetera.
MARTIN CURTIS: I would have loved that to have happened. And one of the things I’ve been waiting for is a white rabbit to come out of the Tesco hat. But actually that hasn’t happened. The only thing Tesco are relying on is that they already have permission for a store down Station Road. But what we know is that if anything is approved down Eastrea Road, that store becomes viable. But Tesco are using the argument that we already have that permission, and therefore you have to give us the permission on Eastrea Road, in order to cancel that one out. And that’s’ the sole argument that they seem to have used. And actually what they don’t offer is anything that offers anything back to Whittlesey. And I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for Tesco to do that. And actually and unfortunately they haven’t done it.
ANDY GALL: Well hopefully there’ll be a decision later on today, won’t there, as to giving the green light for a supermarket.
MARTIN CURTIS: There will. And it will be a step forward. I suspect it won’t be the final step, but it will be a step forward. And from then, hopefully, we can move on and start getting this thing delivered. Because that’s actually one of the other things that y people are saying, is let’s get on and get this done.
ANDY GALL: Because timescale, once you get a signature on a piece of paper, and as you mentioned, it’s a bit of a tangled web as to whether or not it will go through cleanly, you’re looking at quite .. it won’t be this year, will it, before the supermarket’s up and running?
MARTIN CURTIS: I don’t think it will be this year anyway, even if there’s no appeal, there’s no court case. Because you’ve got a lot of agreements to sign, you’ve got a lot of work to do before you actually start building. But I think it’s going to be a good year before we actually get to a point where somebody does actually put in bricks on the ground.