The Plastic Hippo

December 6, 2010

Oh little town of Tesco

Filed under: Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 12:46 am

How still we see thee lie. A new star is added to the bright firmament of the Walsall retail experience. It can only be a matter of time before De Beers, Jean Paul Gaultier, Chanel and Fortnum & Mason are beating a path to open premises in Walsall and will fight to secure a prime position near the ring road. Until then, Tesco have pride of place.

The demolition of the old Walsall College building to make way for the latest Tesco pleasure dome began in January and here we are in December with it about to open well ahead of schedule. Construction methods have certainly improved since 1902 when it took three years to build the Council House and decisions taken inside that older, more august building has made life a lot easier for Tesco to cash in on Christmas.

As the coalition government continue to make policy on the hoof, not least on tuition fees but more recently on urban planning processes, next week the communities secretary Eric Pickles will present a white paper on “decentralisation and localism” which will, to all intents and purposes, do away with the need for planning permission from local authorities. Eric is a heaven sent triple threat hosanna for satire. He is fat, he is stupid and he has a silly name. However, combined with a no hope council and a voracious corporate globe eater, the threat turns into a palpable danger.

Devoid of any ideas, our leaders in Walsall seem to think that we will shop ourselves out of oncoming penury so BOGOF, own-brand superstores are the final solution to regeneration. Another aircraft hanger palace of consumerism is born offering three for two on gold frankincense and myrrh and the sacrifice of a once thriving town centre. Councillor Adrian Andrew is not the Messiah, he is a very naughty boy.

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) advises the government on design and development control and does not seem very happy at a recent shift in policy to bring monolithic out-of-town hypermarkets into already suffering town and city centres. Indeed Richard Simmonds, Chief Executive of CABE, said that “many schemes are simply repeating old out-of-town proposals – typically big, plain buildings in a large car park, which are unsuitable for town centres”. He adds that such developments become “a liability rather than an asset to the community”.

In particular, CABE has criticised Tesco for “weak” designs that will “adversely affect how a place looks and feels and whether it will thrive in the long term” and goes on to say that “short-term economic gain will not compensate for the loss of local character and ability to change and adapt easily”. It gets worse. Tesco and the other major players now want to build mixed-use developments combining a Temple of Mammon with housing, schools and even parks others than those designated for cars and shopping trolleys. Thank you, baby Jesus.

The hippo will undoubtedly waddle along to the new Tesco superstore that is being touted as the saviour of our town and will probably partake in the recently introduced lasagne sandwich and fish finger `n` ketchup sandwich and the excellent automated check outs where one waits ten minutes for an operative to arrive to scan the slave labour sugar snap peas and Zimbabwe corn. With Tesco carrier bags bulging with oven chips and cheap cider he will return to Hatherton Lake thankful that Tesco has opened in time for the festivities.

One hopes that the store does not suffer the calamity that befell a similar Tesco super-mega-hyper outlet in north Lincolnshire on Friday afternoon. In a town that dare not mention its name on the internet for fear of language filters and spam (it begins with S and ends in Thorpe), the roof of a Tesco hypermarket collapsed under the weight of snow.

Let us hope it did not crush the nativity tableau or the charity tin shakers or, more importantly, Tesco profits.

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