Above: meeting with Adam Williams, Tesco’s corporate affairs manager
Today’s announcement by Tesco will be very disappointing to many people in the community particularly those who had taken in good faith the repeated assurances made by Tesco over recent months that they would be advertising jobs at the Chatteris site this spring.
Like many residents I feel let down and it will be difficult to believe any Tesco statements moving forward given how unreliable their previous statements have been.
Over the last six months I have met with Tesco representatives three times, twice in the constituency and once at the House of Commons, because I sensed that the financial difficulties the company was experiencing were so serious that they didn’t match the local commitments that were being made.
On each occasion I was told by Tesco that my concerns were unfounded and they were committed to opening their store in line with their public comments. Clearly these assurances were worthless.
I have, today, spoken at length with Steve Rigby, Tesco’s Group Property Director, who tells me that in terms of the Chatteris site they would place no restriction on a competitor occupying some or all of the store.
They are keen to recover money they will be required to pay on an ongoing basis. They cannot give any guarantees in terms of alternative occupiers or whether the store will be divided. Discussions are now underway to try to off-load the site.
Mr Rigby confirmed to me that, in terms of Whittlesey, Tesco are contractually committed to the developer in terms of paying for the site there. However, he intends to have discussions with the developer with a view to the store in Whittlesey not being built because Tesco will not occupy it. If the Whittlesey store is built Tesco will be paying in much the same way as they are in Chatteris for an unused store. His view is that Whittlesey will only support one new large supermarket.
Mr Rigby told me that he hoped the decision by Tesco concerning the Whittlesey site will provide encouragement to Sainsbury’s to press ahead with their store, which I am sure given the significant legal costs incurred by Sainsbury’s and by the tax payers of Fenland will sound a touch hollow.
I will now liaise closely with Fenland District Council and continue speaking with Tesco to push for the Chatteris site to be found alternative occupiers given the importance to local jobs of this site being used.
The Tesco site in Chatteris is also important as part of ongoing discussions I am having with the Valuation Office in terms of re-valuation of business rates in Chatteris for smaller shopkeepers, which is why it is doubly important the store is occupied.