Saturday, October 12, 2013


I've just come back from the Regeneration exhibition at the Castle and can confirm that there is indeed great interest in this Sainsbury's project. In fact you'd be forgiven for thinking it was the church Christmas jumble sale there were so many people milling around and trying to get in. A right old scrum going on, so there was, for what is now the last hour of the exhibition. Having now seen the plans I repeat what I said earlier: What's not to like? Considering how busy it was in the Old Council Chambers the staff, who all sported Sainsbury's badges even though most worked for the architects involved, were all very helpful and informative. I probed a bit deeper by asking one of them a few questions about the parking issue, particularly at the proposed cinema, and he said that this had been the number one concern during the weekend's public consultation. He emphasized this by saying that he wished he could hold up a neon sign which says that there would be plenty of parking, in fact far more than there currently is across the two sites. Congestion in the town centre could be another issue but, it seems, parking is covered off. If you like your sports then the facilities at the new leisure centre will be right up your street, much better than the current ones on offer at the Angel Leisure Centre by all accounts. The cinema itself looks like it will be a much needed, state of the art, modern complex and a real asset to the town. Sainsbury's will be, well, a supermarket and a big one at that. You'll be able to buy lots of, er, food and drink in there and there'll be lots of parking right outside. In fact much like any other large super market. It may be the crucial thing so far as dear old Sainsbury's are concerned but, sorry, I just can't get too whooped up about that bit of the project.
I guess the only negative that I can think of, provided they are as good as their word on the parking front, is the loss of Beales which currently is Tonbridge's only department store. But then that might open a door for some other group to move in like M&S or House of Fraser, perhaps even a John Lewis. Overall Tonbridge Blog is very positive about this development and can only see it being a strong stimulus for the town....


Paul Bailey said...

I didn't manage to get along to the exhibition, but talking to a friend in the pub last night it seems what was on display was just a blown-up version of what was available on the website. My friend said it was also very crowded, which is probably a good thing, and shows a keen level of interest, from towns folk, in the project.

I am surprised there was no 3D architect's model (too expensive I suppose), but I managed to find all the information I needed from the Council's website, and from previous comments on this blog - particularly those addressing parking concerns.

My thoughts are that, whilst I am no lover of large Supermarkets like Sainsbury, it would be foolish to look a gift horse in the mouth and turn down this project. Yes there are concerns, especially those about possible negative effects on the High Street, but I feel the benefits far outweigh these concerns.

The fact that there will be no additional costs to council tax payers is a relief, and the provison of a cinema will be a welcome boost to the town, and will save having to drive over to North Farm.

Brett said...

Agree Paul - given it is 'free' it would be daft to turn down an opportunity to breathe life into the town and, hopefully, be a catalyst for other stores and restaurants to consider coming here.. Per my other comment though - I do hope there are plans in the pipeline to do something about angel walk and the pavilion. I also hope that given the council will be getting this for free they can put some funds/efforts into regenerating the high street....

Anonymous said...

But the Leisure Centre and Cinema are not free. The council are giving up our car parks. We do not know the arrangements and whether Sainsburys will be paying an annual fee for a long lease or they are to enjoy these benefits for free. I assume that the Cinema building will belong to Sainsburys or their development partner, It wont belong to TMBC. The same applies to the Leisure Centre-who will be the owner? Like not knowing the number of car parking spaces in the actual development, currently 632 across the two sites and the TMBC regeneration web site states " At this stage in the design approximately 865 spaces will be provided within the Botany development area as part of the scheme." The Botany development area is not the same thing as the Angel development site.

As to whether 5 retail units rather than a department store will entice shoppers from outside Tonbridge and stop locals going elsewhere remains to be seen. A similar development elsewhere (Bicester) attracted Sports Direct and Peacocks, hardly top draw retailers. The chance of getting a M&S are zero, a Next possible or even a Waterstones possible.
You also need to bear in mind that the towns near Tonbridge have an abundance of large supermarkets so I think that Sainsburys have to rely on taking away trade from other Tonbridge retailers and that includes those in the High Street. Could be a double whammy for Tonbridge High Street- losing out to the ever increasing Internet trade and the ever increasing in size supermarket. That's why Sainsburys are willing to risk so much cash on this, they know from experience elsewhere that they can squeeze any competition.

Paul Bailey said...

Dave, part of your argument depends on how much revenue the car parks actually bring in for TMBC. By the time they've paid for all the "uniformed goons" (sorry traffic wardens), to patrol the car parks I doubt the revenue is all that great.

They don't get a penny off me, as I only bring my car into the town on Sundays, or after 6pm in the evening.

I agree though, that it is extremely unlikely Tonbridge will get an M&S, given both the proximity of stores in other towns and the new one they are building in Sevenoaks. However, are big stores the attraction some people think they are? Towns such as Lewes do very well without these big High Street names, by offering a good mix of interesting, independent stores, and it is retail opportunities like these that the council should be encouraging.

Finally, does anyone know what, if anything, has happened about the proposed Morrison's store on the old Colas Roads site? It's all gone strangely silent on that front, but surely it wouldn't have anything to do with Sainsbury's, now would it?

Anonymous said...

I have mentioned the Bicester development on this blog elsewhere. This is a Sainsburys based £70 millions development with cinema etc and recently opened. Back in January when the Sainsburys build was finished and the fit out was about to start Sainsburys threated the council that they were going to pull out.
The reason: A Tescos store that was bigger than the Sainsburys was seeking planning permission out of town.
The end result was that planning permission was granted to Tesco but after Sainsburys were allowed to increase the size of their store so that it was bigger than Tesco.
I wonder what TMBC would do if Morrisions to intend to press ahead in Tonbridge?

As for parking in Bicesters, its free for the first 2 hours. If they can do it with a population of 29,000 then Tonbridge with a population of 31,000 could do the same.

Paul Bailey said...

Dave, Tonbridge Borough Council ought to do the same with regard to (limited) free parking, but something tells me they won't.

With regard to Morrison's; I don't know whether Sainsbury's would regard them as serious competition or not? I called in at Morrison's Tunbridge Wells store for a few bits, earlier today, and was singularly unimpressed. Only four manned check-outs open, plus a long queue for the self-service tills. I won't be going back in a hurry!