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Bonkers Blog April 2011

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26 April (Part 1) - Does the Tesco deal checkout?

Civic Centre Woolwich Building Society HQThe council seems to be cock-a-hoop at the prospect of moving from the Civic Centre to the Woolwich Building Society headquarters building that has lain empty for five years. It is likely to be a popular move but if it is such good business for Bexley council why was it ever necessary for a campaign group to fight the original plan for Tesco to open a major store in a residential area?

The council’s own report identifies many problems with the Woolwich building. “The main entrance atrium is not suited to a modern council building” and the Woolwich “hacked off the cabling on vacation”. “The double height former basement requires conversion to be useable office space.” It’s going to cost £36 million to fix it and extend it. The council was prepared to inflict a lot of damage on local services to save £35·4 million; and now they spend it on themselves.

Redeveloping the existing site would “provide a highly efficient purpose built Council office”. Their words not mine and it was by far the cheapest option, said to be under £30 million.

There must be more to this than meets the eye. Perhaps that is why the meetings to rubber stamp the latest proposals are to be held in secret. No press, no public. Much of the council’s written report is unavailable (the Confidential Appendix) but what can be read says that moving to the Woolwich building will save a million pounds a year. Not much is it for an outlay of £36 million? Some of the small savings will have been lost through expenditure on the originally preferred but now abandoned scheme (consultants’ fees etc.).

Removing the council offices to Erith Road/Watling Street may well be a popular move but the dithering will have cost a lot of money and very little is going to be saved. Tesco will have been promised everything they want which will explain why the council proposes that “the Director of Finance and Resources be authorised to agree any waivers to Contract Procedure Rules or Financial Regulations” to ensure no obstacles get in the way.

The campaign group that has been fighting the prospect of a Tesco superstore in Erith Road says it is “determined not to be pushed into accepting something unsuitable” and will “follow planning applications closely”. Call me a cynic but all the signs are of a deal stitched up pretty tightly already what with ‘public’ meetings going into closed sessions and the waiving of rules. Anything other than a faît accompli would not be Tesco’s way. At least they aim to provide another 550 town centre parking spaces; just think what that will do to Craske’s parking revenue projections.


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