Sunday 24 May 2020



by Dave Roberts.

...or, if you're one of the many people who opposed Tesco's plans for expansion in Middlewich,  perhaps The End of a Nightmare might be a more apt title.
The sheer size of  the proposed store and its accompanying car park is absolutely staggering, as can be seen from Tesco's official plan (above). The existing store is shown as a purple oblong.
I have to admit that my first reaction on hearing the news that Tesco had decided not to go ahead with this scheme was one of horror.
I described it as 'a complete and utter disaster', which was, of course, an over-reaction to the totally unexpected news.
The likelihood is that the carrying through of this project would have been the real disaster.
But living in Middlewich for any length of time (and I have been here for sixty years) is very likely to produce a pessimistic outlook and a tendency to clutch at straws.
Despite the best efforts of our councillors, at  both Town and Borough levels, poor old Middlewich always seems to miss out on all the things that most towns take for granted, and have done for years.
We'd all love to have a swimming pool but the chances of one ever being built seem remote; a railway station is more likely, but it has taken so many years to make the scheme even a possibility that people can be pardoned for wondering if it will ever happen in their lifetimes.
And there's a general feeling that Middlewich has to fight tooth and nail for any improvements to the town to come about.
I recently found myself wondering why getting anything done always has to be as the result of a 'campaign' rather than coming about as part of the natural course of events as in other towns.
The recently formed RAMP organisation, which campaigns for the upgrading of Middlewich's parks and play areas, is a case in point.
Why are these things not done by the council whose responsibility they are without such prompting?
So when Tesco began buying up  property between Darlington Street and Southway with a view to expanding their store many of us welcomed the idea in a weary 'anything's better than nothing' sort of spirit.

BARCLAY HOUSE, WINTER 2011 Photo: Salt Town Productions
We objected, of course, to the impending destruction of some beautiful properties including everyone's favourite, Barclay House (above), but consoled ourselves with the thought that we would at least be able to boast a 'proper' supermarket giving us a much bigger choice of goods than the present Tesco store offers.
This was the straw we were all clutching at in our usual 'beggars can't be choosers' Middlewich way.
And, we reasoned, surely  all the new trade brought into the town by the new store will mean a revival for Wheelock Street?
The jury, of course, was always out on that one. Even the much-lauded Artisan Market has divided opinion: Right from the start the market was hugely popular with the public but not necessarily with all the businesses on Wheelock Street, some of whom claim to have seen a decline in trade on Market days.
There would, though, have been one indisputable benefit for Wheelock Street in that one of the town's greatest eyesores, the former Dave's Angling Supplies shop, would have been transformed into a coffee shop (or, more likely given its current parlous state, knocked down and a coffee shop built in its place)

This shop  was once, as older residents will know, two shops with a central entrance porch and doors set at an angle.
The left hand one was Bill Cotterill's barber's shop and the right hand one  the original premises of Brooks & Bostock, the jewellers, who are now just across the road at the end of Lawrence Avenue.
We'll be reminiscing about Cotterill's barbers in a later Diary entry.
Incidentally one of the entrances to the new Tesco car park would have been just behind the car in the photograph.
(for more on the future of this building, see the update below - Ed)

To all outward appearances Tesco seemed to be hell bent on building this new store.
They submitted several planning applications, arguing the toss with councillors and officials about the undoubted problems the development would cause, and tried to quell people's worries about the decidedly dodgy delivery access in St Ann's Road and the traffic problems it would cause (or, to be precise, make worse - the goods entrance to the present Tesco store is in the same place)
And they tried to win hearts and minds, placing huge explanatory posters in the existing store explaining the proposals to the public.
SELLING THE IDEA TO THE PUBLIC 2011  Photo:  Salt Town Productions
The only cloud on the horizon as far as Tesco was concerned was rival supermarket group Morrisons who were threatening to build a new store on the site of the old Boosey's Garden Centre in Chester Road.


The Morrison's store is now a reality and opens its doors, according to reports, on Monday  the 28th January.
(although, as the opening date drew nearer, the Middlewich Guardian reported that Morrison's had had to apply for retrospective planning consent for the store because a number of conditions relating to highway improvements had not been met. Thus, just days before the doors were due to open, frantic efforts were being made to improve the road network near the store and build pedestrian crossings on Newton Bank and in Chester Road.
Nothing ever happens in Middlewich without 'unforeseen circumstances' coming into the equation, it would seem)
Is it just co-incidence that Tesco's announcement that it intended to pull the plug on its ambitious plans came at precisely the same time as Morrisons announced its opening date?
Finally, on Wednesday January 16th, just twelve days before the store was due to open its doors, the needed planning permission was granted by Cheshire East and the local newspaper was able to confirm the opening date.
Even then more chaos was in store for Middlewich as Newton Bank was closed to traffic over the weekend of 19th-20th January to enable contractors  to work  frantically to complete the necessary road improvements.
Somewhat ironically, this made access to Lidl in Chester Road a problem for many and we also heard reports of local residents as far away as Webb's Lane being woken up early on the Saturday morning and being asked to move their cars so that heavy trucks could get through and  work could continue on the roads.


But was Tesco's  big new idea just smoke and mirrors all along? Was the object of the exercise just to frighten Morrisons (and any other retailer which might have had similar ideas) away?
Or has Tesco merely revised its plans as a resuilt of a commercial decision?
How much trade would it have lost during the closure of its store for rebuilding?
Clearly the existing Tesco store, and its two Tesco Express satellites in The Bullring and Warmingham Lane will lose a lot of trade once Morrisons opens its doors.
Anyone who was in Morrison's Winsford store on Saturday afternoon (Jan 13th) would have seen many people from Middlewich giving themselves a preview of what the new company has to offer.
It's hard to imagine them trying out the new Morrison's and deciding to go back to  Tesco, unless Tesco pulls something out of the bag.
What about a good old-fashioned price-cutting war?
If that happened the shoppers of  Middlewich could be on to a winner.
Meanwhile Tesco has something else to consider: what is going to happen to all that blighted property right in the heart of our town?
Are the houses now beyond redemption? If so what will take their place?
Middlewich's much anticipated 'Store Wars' have resulted in a defeat for Tesco, almost before a shot was fired.
In the long run this is probably a good thing for Middlewich, but we now eagerly await the next move from Tesco.
Will they help us build a Town Centre we can be proud of? Or will they simply sell off  all the land they bought up and leave us in the lurch?

© Dave Roberts 2012
(Revised January 2013)

Facebook Feedback

Bill Armsden Excellent, Dave. I also agree with your conclusions.

Lizzie Rosenfield Very good piece, Dave! You speak for a whole lot of us...thank you!

William Cooley Warning signs that the Tesco plan for Middlewich might be disingenuous could be found in the financial press as early as January 2012 when Philip Clarke, Tesco boss, revealed a scaling back of expansion plans in the UK, instead focusing on driving the sale 'of clothes and non-food items online as the internet plays a bigger role for customers'.

It was always going to be a dodgy business putting all your eggs in one basket, not to mention putting your trust in a multi-national. I see this as a lucky break for Middlewich. One that could be turned into a golden opportunity to get a town centre fit for the 21st century.

Karl Jamieson I have been in touch with the town council. They will be speaking to Tesco to see where they can go from here.

Steve Dean Well said, Mr Roberts!

Feedback below is from the 'Middlewich Superstore Info' Facebook page:

William Cooley Some people think that the Morrisons store is big at 2,448 metres gross. Tesco's was going to be 5,091 metres gross - i.e. twice as big, and taller. Madness.

Steven Doyle It's tiny. Have you see the car park? There's room for about 100 cars, I reckon. That's if you can even get near it. The traffic's crazy around that way at the moment, and will be worse when the store opens.

Dave Roberts Which opens up the possibility that Tesco is still in the game and waiting to see what kind of impact Morrisons has on local shopping patterns before deciding what to do. After all, they did (eventually) get planning permission for their mega store and can, presumably, keep renewing that permission as many times as is necessary until the time is right. Perhaps the 'Store Wars' aren't over after all?

Steven Doyle That's a likely possibility, Dave.

Here's a link to the Middlewich Guardian's report on Tesco's decision. The comments made by Middlewich people are of great interest, and there seems to be a general feeling that the 'Store Wars' are indeed not over yet. Several raise the possibility of the Town Council talking to other retailers about moving into the town.



On the 16th January the Middlewich Guardian reported that Tesco were 'still committed to demolishing derelict buildings and tidying up the land it owns between Southway and Darlington Street' and that buildings such as Cheshire House (Darlington Street) and the old Dave's Angling Supplies building (see above) would be demolished. The process of demolition was due to start 'before the end of January'.

So it now remains to be seen what happens to the land that Tesco owns. Will they hold on to it, to prevent the building of another rival supermarket? Or will they sell it off, with the proviso that any future retail development on it  would not be in competition with them?

It is unclear whether Tesco intend to make improvements to their existing store in Southway, but the battle to win over Middlewich shoppers is already in full swing with Tesco donating new kit and training equipment to Middlewich Town FC's under-eights squad and organising a 'free family fun day' at the Southway store and the Tesco Express in Wheelock Street on January 19th.
(with thanks to David Morgan at the Middlewich Guardian)


UPDATE (14th January 2018):

In December 2017 McCarthy & Stone and Henderson Homes submitted a joint planning application to develop the land in question.

The developers promised '50 high quality Retirement Living apartments, a range of 29 new homes, three retail units (fronting onto Wheelock Street) and areas of public space'.

Following meetings with local councillors the developers agreed to hold a public meeting to address residents' concerns

Here's the Middlewich Guardian's report on the planning application and its reception:

Facebook Feedback (22nd May 2020)

  • When 'Broken Dreams' featured in  'The Middlewich Diary Revisited' following the start of demolition on Barclay House, there was a lot of comment on Facebook. One lady seemed to be under the impression that Tesco's plans to build a superstore were only  thwarted following an 'uproar' from local residents. This is patently untrue. There was no 'uproar'. Tesco scrapped the scheme for purely commercial reasons.
  • And a local resident sought to take me to task, apparently for 'not caring' about people who might have been affected by the original plans, but only about the loss of 'some beautiful houses'.

    Well, of course, I wasn't having that... (Ed)

    Sandie Ashley So the ‘uproar’ from local residents confronted with the original plan for the Tesco development did NOTHING !! This is a revised plan partly due to residents ‘uproar’ nice to know you were only concerned about the beautiful houses that would be demolished, and not the impact on residents living in close proximity of what would of been built .

    David Roberts Are these strictures being directed at me personally? It is not my job to oppose planning applications. That is a job for the local council. You need to ask them why the concerns of local residents affected by the proposals did not lead to more vigorous opposition to the original plans. You also need to ask Tesco why they hung onto the property, including those houses, for eight years, refusing to listen to any approaches from people with suggestions for how the land could be better utilised for the good of the town. What councillors described as a 'once in a lifetime opportunity' to build a 'new centre' for the town. And there was no 'uproar'. When we talk of people 'opposing' the plans, we are, as ever, talking of people on Facebook moaning about the situation and taking it no further. I have never used the word 'uproar' in this connection. The reason I have gone back to this subject at this time is because, as I say, people suggested earlier that the plans for the Superstore were dropped because of that imaginary 'uproar'. They were dropped because Tesco had decided to scale down its expansion plans all over the country. We wondered at the time whether Morrison's plans for Chester Road had anything to do with it, but it appears that they didn't. This has been an unholy mess, but none of it had anything to do with me. I just reported on it. The 'impact on residents living in close proximity to what would (have) been built' is entirely a matter for the local authorities, including the town council and Cheshire East.

    Neil Regina Booth  What happened was the mighty Tesco closed its regional distribution centre (warehouse),in middlewich putting hundreds of people out of work it was transferred to stobarts in Widnes.
    Middlewich people have good memories,thus they would not use the old Tesco.
    It's all about money in the till.

    David Roberts Yes. That was another factor in Tesco's retrenchment. My concern was that people should understand just why the major store development never happened. Tesco was never a company which would listen to the concerns of local residents. If it had suited the company to build it those concerns would have been brushed aside in a heartbeat.
    Thanks for your input. I'm glad people haven't forgotten what really happened.

    Garnet Marshall I think you're 100% spot on with your analysis . Also, lets not forget that Tesco also had some very serious accounting problems bubbling under the surface, which finally came to light in 2014. These took a long time to reconcile and lead to board resignations at the highest level. I guess the reason they held on to the land for so long was to show it and other similar acquired land in other parts of the UK as a real growth assets on their balance sheet. Turning it into cash (selling it) at the wrong time would probably have had the wrong sort of tax implications.

    David Roberts Thanks Garnet. I was just anxious to counter the idea put forward elsewhere on Facebook that poor old Tesco were ready willing and able to go forward with the scheme, but were thwarted by strong opposition from people in Middlewich. It's simply not true.

  • First published 16th January 2013
Updated and re-published 5th February 2013, 14th January 2018 and  24th May 2020.

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