The application has finally been submitted. It is a single application encompassing the Tesco superstore. This is an important opportunity for we as residents to have our say.
Is the store too big? Is it going to be too noisy? What about traffic? What will be the effect on town centre?
Well, in reality we know the answers to these questions, since these were exactly the same issues that led to refusal 5 years ago of an application for a much smaller store. The impact of the larger store on a much more fragile local retail economy can only be worse than determined 5 years ago. The only reason Tesco believes it will succeed with its application this time is the link with Lancashire Cricket Club.
However, it is this link with the cricket club that gives most unease. It’s not Tesco giving the finances to the cricket club, in reality the rate-payers of Trafford are paying £21m to the cricket club.
So what’s the deal – How does it work?
Tesco already own part of the site on which they want to build the store but the remainder belongs to the school and for the past 4 or 5 years it has been designated for the building of a sports barn. Rather than use this land, the school have been temporarily utilising with permission, part of Gorse Hill Park which they’ve fenced off. This sizable chunk of Gorse Hill Park will become the School’s permanent property supplemented with even more land from the park.
People have compared the whole deal as like trying to keep your eye on which cup is covering the ball. Well at this point, the school is ok because although it’s losing a playing field, it’s getting another playing field back. It’s actually the people of Gorse Hill that are losing out as they’re losing a substantial chunk of their park to the school.
But aren’t Tesco’s compensating for the loss of park land?
Even the Conservative Leader, Matthew Colledge has written that Tesco is paying well over the market value for the playing field. He argues that it is only by joining up the two pieces of land can the full value be realised. He’s partially right, although his assertion that the playing field is only worth about a million seems to be worryingly undervalued. However, the trouble is that the ‘compensation’ is being bundled up and given to the cricket club.
What does the cricket club add to the deal?
There’s no easy answer to this question. Yes, they’re a private club, and yes some of the access the cricket club is said to be providing, in allowing the school to use the outfield at the club’s discretion, seems to be ridiculously contrived, but the cricket club is nevertheless a prized asset to the Borough. So we as Labour Councillors are not going to denigrate the payout as simply paying for gold-plated toilet seats for the members. But we firmly believe that the £21m is too easily given away. We would not want to lose the cricket ground, but £21m is the equivalent of a million pounds community project in every ward. So firstly there’s the opportunity cost of all those projects that could have been provided. But then there is the delicate question of how much confidence we can have in the cricket club using the capital wisely? We would be much happier if the cricket club had a track record of successful delivery, but to be blunt, the stadium and ground hasn’t become sub-standard overnight. Has the club fully accounted for the reduced TV money that’s likely to accrue from Ashes tests, if Sky TV are no longer allowed to bid for exclusive rights? We think £21m is too much and if we have to have Tesco, then the amount handed over should be reduced.
There’s almost an unspoken implication in Matthew Colledge’s letter that Tesco is being charitable and really are doing this to help the cricket club out of a hole it finds itself in. He argues that the people of Trafford are not losing anything since they are paying over the odds for a piece of land that has no value and no one wants. We have already seen that we lose parkland to replace the land and this does have value to the residents of Gorse Hill. Certainly, it seems ridiculous that sports led regeneration leaves us still with a shabby sports centre.
Labour councillors and in particular, our very own Dave Acton, have consistently tried to question the links between the land sale to Tesco, the land grab of park land, and the handout to the cricket club. Repeatedly the Conservative Councillors have suppressed debates in the democratic forums.
We’re left with a planning application for a sports-led regeneration combined with a very much linked project for an Academy that:
- Takes away part of our communally owned park land
- Imposes a gigantic superstore to the already acknowledged detriment of town centres like Stretford and Chorlton and the neighbourhood parades like Ayres Road
- Packs two schools into one very constrained space – providing little potential for expansion and removing the plausibility of an integrated 6th form
- Amazingly, still provides practically no improvement to sports access. Where is the dilapidated Stretford Sports Centre in all this?
But it gets worse, the council are taking decisions with huge long-term implications and it seems to be simply bedazzled by the kudos of financing the Lancashire Cricket Ground. Everything seems to be secondary to that ribbon cutting day when it’s announced that Old Trafford hosts a cricket match, weather permitting.
Councillor Mike Cordingley