Located a mile off the city centre, Hoole is a beautiful corner of Cheshire set with a vista of charming independent shops set along a road known in antiquity as the ‘Valley of Demons’, the haunt of thieves and robbers. In more recent times it has proved to be a more pleasant experience for travellers and residents alike. But the shops that dot the city suburb face a downturn if a Tesco store joins the game, placing their future and Hoole’s vibrancy in doubt.
After last month’s admission that profits nationwide had been overstated by £263m for at least two years, Tesco has continued to push hard at expanding its consumer base, including a plan to convert Hoole’s ELMS medical centre into a 280 square metre convenience store, despite widespread criticism from the community.
Patients of the closing surgery will be registered in the new super-clinic at site of the former Delamere Street bus station in the city centre, and the retail assessment given by planning consultants Edgeplan last month reported “that the proposal forms sustainable development and that permission should therefore be granted without delay”.
The initial proposal was put forward earlier this year, and resulted in an opposing petition by Councillor and Conservative Whip Mark Williams, aimed at “protecting the local independent shops from predatory supermarkets”. The campaign garnered more than 2000 signatures. A twitter account, ‘SaveHooleShops’, gained nearly 300 followers in its first few days, as the heat continues to fall on Tesco.
The retail giant already have large stores in Frodsham Street and Sealand Road, as well as five smaller stores and four One Stops in the Chester area. Williams said the latest proposed addition will “in no way benefit the community.
“A surgery is for the benefit of the local community and so the building and any services or business conducted therein should remain for the benefit of the community.”
Hoole’s independent shops will face losses if Tesco moves in.The retail assessment compiled by Edgeplan asserts that “over 50% of the new store’s turnover is expected to be drawn from existing stores in the centre”, which Williams called “remarkable and hardly justification as it clearly shows that they know it will have a detrimental effect on the local retail zone. This is unacceptable and the application should be rejected.”
Dr Claire Cornmell, Associate Director for consultancy firm, Weetwood, and Hoole resident added her voice to the protests, stressing the inconvenience it would cause to fellow residents: “I am concerned about the negative impact the proposal would have on the important and vibrant Faulkner Street shopping area.”
She added: “I believe that the site would serve the community better by providing other non-retail services. In fact, the service most desperately needed is a doctor’s surgery, as it is important to me to have a local doctor’s surgery and I consider the Northgate medical centre to be too far away.”
A Tesco spokesperson commented on the tensions created by the planned store, saying it benefited Hoole’s residents and shops, rather than the opposite: “We think a small Tesco store would complement the retail offer in Hoole. We’d be happy to review any options for a store in the local community. We operate alongside a huge range of businesses in communities across the country and, through increasing footfall, our stores can provide a boost to local traders. We employ many people across Chester and are proud to support the city’s flourishing economy.”
Liberal Democrat Councillor, Bob Thompson, also voiced his disapproval of the proposed move: “The application would seriously disrupt the economic health of the main Hoole Shopping Centre located on Faulkner and Charles Street in Hoole. It would take business away from the main shopping centre at a cost to community; to jobs and to the environment.
“Tesco already have many outlets in the city. The city needs to prove its own identity and that will be secured with a balance of the small independents and the high-street stores and supermarkets and mini markets. The application restricts competition; suffocates a currently vibrant community and does nothing for Chester.”
Chester recently hosted the annual Small Business Saturday, an event that highlights small business success and encourages people to shop local. Chester MP, Stephen Mosley, called the city’s independent retail shops “the lifeblood of our economy. Adding diversity and vibrancy to our local high streets and giving Chester real appeal, both to local shoppers and tourists”. Hoole’s own collection of independent shops and many of its residents will hope for the Council to deliver on that stance and prevent Tesco from taking over their streets.