Sainsbury’s store stalled by Greenwich Council as Tesco opens

Odd goings-on at a meeting of Greenwich Council last night. It should have been an important night if you live in the riverside part of Charlton, as a long-standing application to build a new Sainsbury’s store on Woolwich Road, on the site of the old Wickes branch, was to have been have been approved or rejected.

In short, Sainsbury’s has run out of space in its Greenwich store, and would like to open a new store half a mile down the road, to the same environmental principles as its 13-year-old current branch.

Marks & Spencer would take up space in the building too, and developer LXB – which has bought up much of the Charlton retail space – has spent a lot of time wooing local residents’ groups and pledging that it’ll bring a bit of life back to the Woolwich Road.

The planning application was submitted in May, and these things are meant to take 13 weeks to come to a decision. In “Royal” Greenwich, this actually took until the penultimate day of November to be scheduled for a decision.

But that wasn’t enough. Four days after Woolwich’s new mega-Tesco opened, on the night of the meeting, Greenwich Council’s planning board decided to delay the Sainsbury’s application even further. But why?

Apparently, a site visit was needed. Even though this is a prominent site, sat between two A-roads, and a visit could have been arranged at any time within the past five months. Also, a “retail impact assessment” was required – but why couldn’t have been done in the five months it took this application to come before the planning board? After all, it’s 13 months since a councillor voiced reservations on he effect this would have on Woolwich.

All of this came as a surprise to the council’s planning officers, but it was to no avail – Sainsbury’s application, submitted in May, was booted well into the long grass.

How did this happen? Well, there was an exchange of scribbled notes, which started with regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland (of foot tunnels fame), and involved council leader Chris Roberts, planning director Steve Pallett and planning chair Ray Walker. And then, mysteriously, the item was struck off the agenda.

Incidentally, across the road from Woolwich Town Hall, and a couple of miles from the Sainsbury’s site, a new mega-Tesco has just opened. Tesco built the council’s new HQ as part of the deal, and council leader Chris Roberts has spoken warmly about the job opportunities the new store has brought.

Wisely, though, as a member of the planning board, Chris Roberts didn’t appear in the photos marking the store’s opening on Monday – leaving that to mayor David Grant, MP Nick Raynsford and Abbey Wood-based Olympian Zoe Smith, with a cheque from Tesco to the council’s charity.

But despite his endorsements of Tesco in Woolwich, he was still able to take part in an exchange of notes which resulted in a planning decision about a rival’s store being deferred for a “retail impact assessment”. (Even though one had already been done – see below.)

So, what on earth is going on? Local campaigners in Charlton want to use the Sainsbury’s scheme (and the long-delayed Travelodge, also backed by LXB) as leverage to make the Woolwich Road less of a filthy rat-run and more of a pleasant place to live.

Yet despite months of prevarication, Greenwich Council has kicked it into the long grass, just as a rival’s store opens. What is going on in a council run by a party which, on a national level, brands Tesco “an almighty conglomerate”?

11.45am update: It’s been pointed out to me that a retail impact assessment had already been done – it’s two documents in this enormous bundle here. Council officers, meanwhile, had been working under the belief that the issue would be discussed last night. What is going on?


  1. Could Sainsburys not take over next-door Comet, which has gone under and is closing? Better site, stay put, on all major bus routes to North Greenwich? Otherwise what’s happening to that big retail area on Bugsbys Way?

  2. Getting into bed with those who rule local govt kingdoms, by helping to fund local infrastructure, is part of the game for the big supermarkets. Tesco probably just got in first.

  3. Kate – the plan, which has been kicking around long before Comet started to tank, is to lease the current Greenwich site to a non-food retailer. It’s not unthinkable that a supermarket could move into Comet, if course. Plenty of past coverage at the Charlton Champion, including the transport issues.

  4. There may be legitimate reasons for the proposal being deferred last night. I turned up as other members did to find that the matter was off the agenda. Apologies to those residents who gave up their time to attend. I have written to Officers this morning objecting to the way his was done. This application has been around for five months. The Council is committed to the regeneration of the Borough which is clearly set out in the Masterplans which will help local jobs.

  5. I don’t believe that anyone in Greenwich Council is corrupt. And I’d be surprised if the Council is deliberately planning to do down Sainsburys to benefit Tesco when it wants Sainsburys to enlarge its store in Eltham. Last night’s note passing sounds more like cock-up than conspiracy.

    What’s certainly true is that Greenwich Council wants as much land as possible to the north of Woolwich Rd to become available for housing – much to the approval of Berkeley Homes. The result is that the Royal Dormitory is projected to be the only London Borough simultaneously in the top category for population growth and the bottom category for job creation

  6. As a resident of Carlton living directly opposite the proposed Travel Lodge site I was keen to attend the public meeting. However finding out on arrival that the item was shelved was completely unacceptable. How do actions of this nature occur and why would they happen? When the self interest of certain individuals within the council overrides what should be a fair and democratic process across all of Greenwich. It occurs when these individuals are honouring a back handed deal with a large supermarket, that’s when! This is straight out of Private Eye. PS. I want the money I wasted paying for childcare last night.

  7. If the good burghers of Greenwich keep voting in these wonderful Labour councillors why complain? The people have spoken over the last 70 years and they keep speaking so accept it. This is what everyone wants. Post 2014 the whole council will be virtually all Labour (you heard it here first!) so it will be even better. Thank God those vile Liberals, pathetic Greens and destructive Tories have nothing to do with Greenwich. More Labour please!!!!!! No opposition!!!! No ridiculous democracy!!! No discussion!!! No debate!!!

  8. Combining the Comet unit with the existing store is a superb idea. That footpath in between the buildings is all but redundant and only goes to the back of the units, so that could be built over with minimal fuss.

  9. For something that is quite obviously going to have a big impact on our local community, there has been shocking dithering and lack of publicity for this. People are still surprised when I say what the Wickes land is for — the response always being, “what’s wrong with the other sainsbury’s.”
    They still haven’t got the traffic plans sorted is my guess. They have rephased the traffic lkights leading onto Woolwich Road from Charlton Churh Lane, leading to queues, queue jumping illegal (and dangerous use) of the bus lane to turn onto Woolwich Road

    Why were the lights rephased? An experiment to see what happens when the store opens? Well its already causing confusin, anger and dangerous driving, It wont be long before fatal.

  10. Planning Applications for something of this size and impact never take the time that they should… weeks and indeed months longer are commonplace. Sudden last minute changes of mind also common, it has happened to me.

    The RIA might have been out of date – and the opening of Tesco (the letting or otherwise of the other units in that development) may or may not have been factored in, the reconfiguration of General Gordon Square may or may not have been factored in, and even the closing of Comet has to be taken account of.

    Building the new Council offices ‘as part of the deal’ is not seedy or shady but very commonplace and known in Planning parlance as a Section 106 agreement, if it is transport and traffic they want sorted then they get a Section 278 agreement.

    As for Supermarkets blocking each other. A matter of months is nothing. Where I grew up Sainsbury held the monopoly for over 20 years; several derelict sites were supposed to get supermarkets but to this day stand vacant. Eventually another store, Waitrose, got a foot in but that is it – for miles.

    The assumption that there must be ‘something rotten in the Borough’ may or may not be true – but as somebody who has been/is involved in a half dozen supermarket schemes, these things never have easy or quick births!

  11. All very frustrating when to my mind the local population are crying out for the rescue of a derelict site and corresponding transport improvements. Whilst you would hope the councillors are working in everyone’s interests to achieve these goals they really do help the conspiracy theorists with unexplained and random changes in direction. A bit of transparency please!

  12. I think its fine, LXB can build whatever they want wherever they want, but it has to go through the correct planning procedures and correspond with the Charlton Riverside plan.
    What I want to see is proper transport links. Revive the Riverside Transit scheme and ensure there are dedicated cycle lanes and pedestrian links built into all new developments. It’s imperative the council holds developers to account for these quality of life enhancements.

  13. I ended-up reading the Retail Impact Assessment document and I thought it was packed fascinating information about the major retail topography in Greenwich. The Woolwich Sainsbury’s was overtrading by huge 140% (I suspect the demise of Somerfield may have contributed to this), obviously it’ll be lower now that Tesco Extra has arrived. When you factor in the new homes being built in the area I can clearly see the rationale for its development.

    If I’m reading the RIA right, at 13,000 square metres the proposed new Sainsbury’s in Charlton will be more than twice the size of the current Greenwich store and will be significantly bigger than ASDA Charlton and Tesco Extra Woolwich!

    The ASDA Charlton apparently overtrades by 200% so I would imagine Sainbury’s are looking to capture a share of that.

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