South of the River – Constructive Summer

Compass-SouthComment logo 2It seems Asda are playing fast and loose with the planning system.

We have chronicled on these pages the changes Asda have sought and in some cases gained to their original plans. It seems this is standard practice, get permission for what is acceptable and then keep pushing for longer opening hours, a petrol station – whatever you can get away with.

The discussion at Beeston Forum last night catalogued a series of alleged breaches of their planning permission for their new store on Old Lane. They are not building a second storey or shifting the car park to the other side of the site, but they are cutting corners when it comes to minimising the impact on local residents.

For example they started work on the site without agreeing with planning officers how they would manage the dirt. This resulted in mud on the roads and dust in the air until residents alerted the council.

They dug up and relayed a footpath without having an archaeologist on site. It may ‘just’ be a ginnel these days, but it is a footpath that dates back to medieval times.

Now their sub contractors are in doing the fitting out. They cannot park their vans on site, in the customer car park, so they park on the nearest available street. In this case Theodore Street. They arrive early and park all the way down the block on both sides of the road. All quite legal, but this is unofficial parking for Old Lane Post Office. Since they closed the Post Offices within walking distance, many people drive, especially older folk. Plus the vans make an often tricky junction even harder to navigate safely, especially when they park right on the corner blocking sight lines and forcing pedestrians into the road.

Asda are supposed to have signed up to the Considerate Constructors scheme, but it’s not clear they have. The Forum may never find out as Asda seem to have stopped replying to their letters.

What are Asda up to? They and their contractors know how far they can push things, which corners they can cut. They build these things all the time around the country and know how to keep costs down. One important aspect that Cllr Angela Gabriel pointed out to the meeting is that when the under-resourced planning officers do try to enforce the conditions, the builder is given a period (is it 21 days?) to put things right. So they can carry on spreading muck on the road, or whatever for another few weeks and with luck (from their point of view) that part of the job will be finished and they will have got away with cutting that particular corner.

Why do they have to behave like this? Well that’s just it they have to, it’s the law. They are required to maximise shareholder profits. The financial law trumps the planning law. It cuts across everything from squeezing farmers and other producers, paying their staff as little as they can get away with.

Asda are actually quite a green company. They run trains to their Wakefield distribution centre to keep lorries off the road, oh and because it’s cheaper. They recycle their own cardboard, well have you seen the cost of sending it to landfill?

From their point of view the months of inconvenience, noise and dirt that residents have to put up with are just temporary. What’s a bit of flak from a few people in the community for a few months compared to the thousands of customers that will go through their doors in the coming years?

I’m as appalled as the other thirty people sitting in the room last night, but I’m not surprised. Don’t we know that this is how supermarket chains, indeed any big company carries on?

What’s the answer to all this. Well we need some pretty fundamental changes to the priorities of this society. We could start by giving local authorities the resources to meet their obligations to the local community. Given the election result last week I can’t see that happening any time soon.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.

3 Replies to “South of the River – Constructive Summer”

  1. Hi Jeremy.
    Your right – directors of companies are obliged to maximise shareholder value – but that isn’t as simple as just considering short term financial profit.
    For example, the issues with Asda… If the strategy from Asda were to complete the store build as cheaply as possible, without any consideration or care about who is affected or disadvantaged in order to improve bottom-line profit, then this won’t necessarily improve shareholder value if they are left with lots of customers who now resent the company and won’t shop there.
    Problem is poor management who are incentivised into chasing short term quarterly figures instead of thinking about long term success and sustainability…

  2. Take it from someone who used to work in the construction industry ‘ the ‘considerate constructors’ scheme is a complete waste of time.

    It’s just another fee that contractors charge the end user, to try and present themselves as being neighbour friendly, when points are awarded for spurious things such as having signs framed and behind perspex, on the hoardings.

    Whilst one does have reason to believe that the government will cut funding for councils, you must also question how a council (Leeds or elsewhere) spends it’s money.

    Is there any reason why councillors can claim more than the HMRC guidelines for mileage on council business?

    Is there a need for three councillors per ward? I’ve read literature from all parties this year and it seems the only ones doing anything are the ones who were up for election this year…. no doubt next year the same will apply.

    I’d propose scrapping the post of police and crime commissioner – it’s scandalous that they earn more than the local MP – and do what, exactly? That money could be diverted towards protecting front line services.

    There really does need to be a lot of red lines put through local government expenditure – to ensure that what is spent delivers what is needed by the people. At the minute that clearly isn’t the case – not just in Leeds but right across the country.

  3. Here’s a thing…not to sound too cynical but ASDA is owned by Walmart, a U.S. Company renowned for its contempt for little things like …oh, the rule of law, trades Union organisation, health &amp safety. Oddly enough, their concern is profit: as much, as fast, from anywhere.
    Contrast that to the Co-op. Rooted in the locality, paying decent rates to farmers &amp to its employees, plus a divi to members, and committed to Eco-friendly, fair trade.
    It confuses me that people complain about ASDA doing what it is bound to do in its private &amp anonymous shareholders’ interests, but shop there, when they could instead get some money off in the Co-op, help themselves &amp their community .

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