More retail development in Evesham?

Well, well, well. Hot on the heels of last week’s news about the possibility of Waitrose coming to Evesham, we now have another proposal in the air. Earlier this evening, I received an email from a PR firm, Polity Communications, inviting me to an exhibition that they’re putting on in the Town Hall and Bengeworth Club where they will be showing information about a proposed new retail development at the top of Elm Road. Here’s a copy of the PDF that came with the email; feel free to download it and pass it around (they specifically asked me to help publicise the exhibition, which I’m happy to do).

The information we’ve got so far raises more questions than it answers. The proposed location, on the orchards between Elm Road and the by-pass, is not allocated for development in the South Worcestershire Development Plan. We don’t know, at the moment, who the intended occupants of the site will be, other than it is proposed to build “major new retail” facilities. And no planning application has yet been made. So, as things stand, this does seem to be very much a speculative proposal that may well find it difficult to get approval if and when it does actually reach the planning stage. Or, possibly, the proponents of the scheme may decide that Evesham isn’t for them, after all.

It is, though, an interesting concept. One of the big problems in the area is that we have two major housing developments on the north-east of town, Lavender Fields off Elm Road and the new development off Offenham Road, with no corresponding improvements in local retail facilities. These proposals are clearly intended to address that, by providing a new retail centre close to both of these housing estates. I’ve previously commented (repeatedly!) that supermarket retail provision in the town is unbalanced, with far more floorspace on the northern side of the river despite the fact that the majority of the population is on the southern and eastern side. This is becoming even more so with the new developments on the outskirts of Bengeworth. So we definitely do need another large supermarket on our side of town to provide an alternative to Morrisons.

In principle, therefore, I’d cautiously welcome this proposal, although I’d need to know a lot more detail before I could give it my definite backing. I think the location makes sense, even though it’s outside the SWDP allocation, and even more so if it can be accessed directly from both Elm Road and Offenham road so that traffic to it from either side doesn’t need to pass through the awkward junction between the two.

There will, of course, be objections that it’s taking trade out of the town centre. But, realistically, assuming it is a supermarket (and we don’t know that for certain either, but it seems by far the most plausible suggestion) then the reality is that large supermarkets are almost always on the edge of town. The proposed Waitrose is an exception, but that’s addressing a rather different market segment to that occupied by Tesco and Morrisons – and the newcomer, whoever that may be. And having a supermarket at the top of Elm Road will help reduce traffic along Port Street and across the river, which can only be a good thing. Supermarkets are a type of shop that, unless you live very close, you really do need to drive to. So adding a new on in the top right hand corner of the town should help to make a significant reduction in the overall length of journeys.

On a wider note, I find it encouraging that retailers want to come to the town. Obviously, with the population increase generated by the new housing developments, the potential market for them will expand too. But, even so, it’s a good thing when the town can sustain more shops. Assuming this – or something like it – goes ahead, all we need then is something on the west of town to serve the new developments in Hampton!

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. If you can, then make sure you get along to the exhibition and see what’s in store (pun intended, sorry). It’s at the Town Hall on Wednesday 26th June between 2pm and 7pm, and then at Bengeworth Club, Coronation Street on Thursday 27th June between 12 midday and 6.45pm. And then let me have your feedback, either here on the blog or via the Mayor of Evesham’s Facebook page. It would be good to know what people think.

Supermarket wines photo by Laura Thorne.

Morrisons customer service fail

I dropped in to Morrisons this afternoon to grab a few things. Not much, just enough for what I’m planning to cook tonight. One of the things I wanted was plain, uncooked peanuts. I’ve bought them before from Morrisons, so I know that they have them – or, at least, used to. I also know that they’ve moved things around in the store since I last bought them, and they aren’t were they used to be.

Not to worry, I thought, I’ll have a quick look in the obvious places and, if I still can’t find them, I’ll ask someone. First stop, look around near the fruit and veg, since that’s broadly where they were before and there’s a good chance they still are, albeit in a different location. Nope, can’t find them.

Second stop, the crisps and nuts aisle. Not really the most likely place, but it makes more sense to work systematically through the store rather than backwards and forwards from end to end. And, no, they’re not there.

Third stop, the baking ingredients and dried fruits and nuts aisle. Some other supermarkets put what they call “wholefoods” in this general location, and there’s a certain synergy about it as, in Morrisons, it does contain raw almonds, hazelnuts, cashews etc. But no peanuts.

So, the fallback option. Catch the first member of staff who walks past and ask. Cue the following interaction:

Me: Please could you tell me where I’d find plain, uncooked peanuts.

Her: (as if I’ve just interrupted something really important) In the crisps and nuts aisle.

Me: I’ve already looked in there, and couldn’t see any. Could you show me exactly where they are?

Her: (deep sigh, starts walking towards the crisps and nuts) Maybe we don’t have any, then, because that’s where they are. (We arrive at the nuts) This is all the nuts we’ve got.

Me: No, these aren’t the ones I want. Normally, they’d be in something like the wholefoods section. Do you have anything like that?

Her: (blankly) Wholefoods? No, we don’t have anything like that.

Me: They used to be near the fruit and veg (walking towards where they used to be) – they were here, before you changed things around.

Her: Those are over by the front of the store. But it doesn’t have any plain peanuts, that’s just nuts still in their shells.

Me: Can you show me where that is, please.

Her: OK, but it’s just nuts in shells.

(She leads me towards the far corner of the shop, to a unit tucked away behind a seasonal display of hanging baskets. It contains many different types of nuts and seeds, some in shells, mostly not in shells. Heck, I’d call this a wholefoods section, even if Morrisons don’t. There, at the bottom: Red skin peanuts, 99p for 400g.)

Me: Yes, that’s what I’m looking for, thanks.

Her: (another deep sigh, wanders off to the staff room door).

Maybe I’m turning into a grumpy old man, but my memory of asking shop assistants where to find things is that a) they knew where it was, and b) they’d insist on showing you, even if you were happy with just getting general directions. Was this just one particular member of staff being crap at her job, or is it a particular feature of Morrisons, or are all supermarket staff now this unhelpful?