Now that it has been confirmed that a number of the abandoned Tesco development sites have been sold to the European investment fund managers Meyer Bergman, I thought I would say a little bit about one of these sites which is in Dartford town centre.
Firstly, it is going to be interesting to see how the Planners at Dartford Council deal with any approach to develop this large site should it be at odds with the current Planning Permission for a supermarket (along with some other uses on the upper floors including homes).
Dartford’s Core Strategy specifically identifies the ‘Tesco Site’ along and behind Lowfield Street as being for retail and or leisure use on the ground floor, with a mix of uses on upper floors that could include housing, office use and community facilities. The assumption behind the sale of these Tesco sites, which Tesco no longer need, is that they will now be used for housing instead of retail. So it is going to be interesting to see what Dartford Council and its Planners say about this, and whether they are prepared to just accept the use which new owners wish to see on the site, or whether they insist on their Core Strategy being implemented and Planning Policy keep to.
Nothing has changed in Planning terms as far as this site is concerned. Dartford’s population is still set to grow by 43% and needs the town centre to serve it with shops and leisure facilities. Additionally, Dartford’s Retail and Commercial Leisure Study (which says that the town centre’s convenience offer combined with comparison floorspace, including food, needs to be strengthened), is still valid.
Just because this site is no longer required by Tesco as a food store, this doesn’t mean that a food store on this site is not viable. Tesco pulled out of development not because there is no, or insufficient, demand in the centre of Dartford, but because Tesco has financial issues which mean that its investment’s have been cut back. It could be that other operators (such as Aldi) are interested in locating in the centre of Dartford and this site should be offered to these rather than the owners dictating what the use will be: after-all this is why we have a Planning System; to ensure that the wider community benefits from land use and not just the owners of land. The new owners of the Tesco site must not be allowed to prevent a competitor to Tesco from using this site.
Secondly, whatever development is proposed for Lowfield Street we also need to decide whether it is right to allow the developers to totally demolish the buildings which have been left empty there. It may be easier, and be more financially beneficial, for the owners and developers to have a clean sheet with the removal of these buildings but that doesn’t make it right or acceptable.
Although these buildings are not (as far as I know) Listed, some of them are characteristic of their time; provide a link and reminder of Dartford’s past, and are likely to be valued by the citizens of Dartford as a link with their past, and are intrinsic to providing a sense of place.
Additionally, keeping some of these buildings will help provide variety in the urban grain, as well as providing variety in the sort of accommodation available to businesses which could locate in the town centre. So, I hope that Dartford’s Planners at least think about which buildings should be kept, and consider urban design and place-making rather than allowing total demolition and replacement with solely modern design which could be anywhere rather than reflective of Dartford and its history.
I have included here photographs of some of these buildings.
The Tesco site extends behind this now empty pub – there is plenty of room to re-develop and keep this building.
Again, these is plenty of room for re-development behind these buildings without having to demolish them.
(This pub is empty and is opposite the empty Tesco site, and thus not part of it. Its fortunes can’t have been helped by much of Lowfield Street being blighted for over 10 years).
In all, I am hopeful that Dartford Council will not allow the new owners of the Tesco site to change or ignore Dartford’s Planning policies, and just turn this valuable town centre site to predominately housing, when it has been established with evidence that what is required is a retail led mixed use development.
Dartford does not have an executive elected Mayor who can lead on negotiations with the new owners, but it does have a strong and charismatic Leader who, I think, may have had enough of promises from developers, and wants what is right for Dartford and its citizens rather than exclusively what is right for the balance sheet of the site owners.