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Tesco no longer such a dirty word in Richmond

Cllr Katharine Harborne of Richmond Council on why she welcomes a new Tesco to her ward

With Chicken Kievs and Fairy Liquid now veritably flying out of Richmond's new Tesco Express on Kew Road (in my Ward) it's hard to imagine the store’s plans to open on the site of the grade II listed, Art Deco Café Mattiae Bakery and Tea Room, ever sparked outrage.

Since May 2010 elections the Mayor of London, and local councils, have initiated planning policies designed to protect local independent retailers by granting greater powers to resist the planning applications of large retailers. However, despite these changes, there was nothing local ward Councillors could do to stop Tesco occupying our much loved local landmark.

Councillors surveyed 2,000 local residents to gather a consensus of opinions. In total, 88% were against Tesco taking over the listed building citing concerns such as impact on other local businesses and the obstruction their deliveries to the bus lane outside as reasons for their opposition. Taking this on board, Councillors worked hard to ensure that the unwanted Tesco was not built. But, to no avail.

One survey participant commented that, “The building has been vacant for 7 years. It should be a flourishing local business but, if it is going to be a supermarket, we would rather it was a Waitrose.” Combining this inspiration with expert support from Clive Baron, a Richmond resident who restores historic pubs to their former glory, we decided to talk directly to Tesco.

Serendipitously, I encountered a clutch of Tesco directors at the Conservative Party conference in 2010. I raised the survey results and the concerns many had over each Tesco Express store’s bland uniformity, and asked the directors to work towards a compromise, respecting the historical Art Deco building with a unique logo. I said residents would prefer a Tesco more in keeping with Richmond? Surprisingly they said no one had ever asked them to do that before, but were very happy to rise to the challenge.

Thus began the collaboration between councillors, local residents, LBRuT and Tesco managers, working together to accommodate the impact the store would have, respect the local community and integrate it with the iconic Art Deco Café Matthiae Bakery and Tea Room façade.

Two years later, instead of the standard, red white and blue illuminated facia, there is a stylish restored Art Deco frontage with bespoke individual Tesco silver signage in keeping with the 1930s period style, and a unique museum window in homage to the history of the building. The double front windows display wedding cakes on one side and the other looks like someone is just about to sit down in a 1930's style tea shop. The inside of the building is sensitively restored too. Julie Dunlop née Matthiae, at the recent opening of the store, said she was delighted; that it was evocative and a fitting tribute to her parents’ business.

We also persuaded Tesco to set up a liaison group to resolve other concerns residents may have before they became festering local resentments.

In order to support local traders and retailers the council has installed cycle parking outside the Kew Road store, as research from Transport for London (TfL) shows that cyclists spend more money in local shops. Simultaneously, in support of local shops throughout the borough, LBRuT has enabled 30 minutes free parking, and been able to increase the number of Kew Road parking bays allowing people to frequent all the local shops; not just the new Kew Road Tesco. One delighted local trader reported his turnover has increased by £2,000 per month as a result.

The Tesco Express store in the Kew Road is proving such a success that no one can remember what all the fuss was about in the first place. Even Tesco are delighted with this change for good. Michael Kissman the Community Director at Tesco said that “Our customers have been telling us how much they love this new store, especially the unique design and what we have done to preserve the history of the building.”

In all my dealings with Tesco they were proactive and great to work with. I would like to thank them for working with us, and for being responsible custodians of this local landmark and producing an amazing, bespoke, Art Deco Tesco in keeping with the local area. Please come and visit its rapidly becoming a tourist attraction too.

The big lesson to MP's, Councillors and communities like ours is that you might not be able to stop big corporations and businesses like Tesco but if you work with them, together you can achieve great things. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.


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