A team of PR, planning and transport experts from supermarket giant Tesco spent an hour briefing North Kesteven District Councillors on details of their new project for the former Advanta seeds site off Boston Road, for which they had previously been given planning permission to build a new supermarket.
Communications Manager for Tesco, Jessica Dean explained the history of the site to assembled members at a pre-application planning forum designed to sound out members prior a full planning application. They were watched by a collection of more than 20 interested town councillors and residents.
Ms Dean explained the site had been bought by Tesco in 2007 which spent the following seven years locked in negotiations, acquiring planning permission to build before deciding not to go ahead in 2015 when the company’s trading situation became more difficult. However after a stakeholder meeting in October that year, work began on an alternative mixed-use scheme for the site.
Planning consultant Mark Aylward outlined the plans for five medium-sized retail units and one large retail unit with garden centre. It was said that there was interest for such units from large retailers when they tested the market last year.
Mr Aylward estimated the project could generate:
○ 296 full time equivalent jobs (full and part-time)
○ An annual boost to the economy of £5.75m from wages and business rates and so on
○ An additional £4.8m to the local economy during the construction phase from workers and local companies serving the site.
He said: “The estimated construction period would probably be around a year.” But the first stage would be to relocate the Bristol Bowls Club which would form the access route from Boston Road. Mr Aylward said the club had already agreed to relocate to a brand new bowling green and pavilion with its own member parking area in the south east corner of the 5.46 hectare brownfield site, next to the railway line.
A retirement living complex on three floors catering for up to 58 rooms was earmarked for land alongside the access road in response to market demand, said Mr Aylward. A couple of companies were already interested. He said it was an important opportunity to provide a very central, accessible position for elderly people close to the town centre.
There would also be a drive-through coffee shop or food outlet.
In total the site would supply 450 parking spaces, the majority being short-term and free for up to three hours, for customers. Staff would be exempt from that rule, addressing a concern raised by one councillor about surrounding streets potentially becoming congested with parking.
The junction with Boston Road would have traffic lights and require a ‘small’ amount of land taken from the western edge of the recreation ground (2,284 sq m) that has already been agreed in principle with the Town Council which would in return receive a significantly larger piece of spare land that could join onto the ‘rec’.
Mr Aylward said that four trees would need to be lost as a result, compared to the 47 that were envisaged under the previous superstore plan and the Town Council could use the extra land to plant replacement trees. He said: “There would be an aspiration to replace like for like with trees, not necessarily on Tesco land.”
Mr Aylward explained that as there would be significantly less hourly traffic to and from the site (274 vehicles per hour at peak time compared to 895 per hour under the old scheme), there was no longer a need for an access road over the railway line, complete with 14 metre-high bridge affecting views of the Maltings, and so the route could be re-aligned through the bowls club.
Mr Aylward said this scheme could address the need of major retailers for suitable space in the town while addressing the need to encourage footfall into the town centre.
He said it had always been in the district council’s plans to encourage pedestrian and cyclist flow via the Southgate entrance to the site, beside Turnbulls, adding: “The government has been pushing away from out of town shopping centres since 1996 and we are trying to achieve a town centre site scheme. It just feels like it isn’t because people have not seen it.
“We are trying to achieve the link to other shops and services in the town by providing a pedestrian route that is safe, flat, direct and with accessible off-street parking. It is about providng a bit of critical mass at that end of town, then it is up to those retailers to ensure their shops are attractive enough to get people in.
“The massive issue of Sleaford is almost three quarters of residents’ non-food spend goes to Lincoln and Gainsborough meaning that employment and business rates are not coming back to North Kesteven.”
He said this would link into other regeneration schemes for the centre of town, while opening up, until now, unseen views of the historically significant industrial Maltings complex.
Tesco transport consultant John Hopkins added categorically that there was no longer any need to close the Southgate level crossing as a result of these changes, according to county council traffic flow modelling.
All agreements with landowners are also said to be in place, something that was an issue before, with the Town Council barring the way through the recreation ground. As a whole Mr Aylward said there was significantly less impact on the town.
Information boards about the project will be displayed in the Sleaford Tesco store until mid May, with comment cards available as well as an email address.
Councillors did ask about the affect on junctions with Carre Street and Southgate, but Mr Hopkins said there were likely to be minor alterations to improve flow, while the new traffic lights at the Boston Road access would include phases to help pedestrians cross safely.
They were also looking to allow public transport access. Mr Aylward added that parking on Boston Road would be improved as the bowls club members would no longer need to park there for matches.
Councillors Grenville Jackson and Kate Cook asked what could be done about additional traffic and delivery lorries coming from the south having to go through the town centre to get to the development, causing more congestion. But in response Mr Hopkins said it had always been the view that it would not be safe to allow vehicle access from the Southgate end of the site.
A Tesco spokesperson said after the meeting: “We’re pleased to be preparing to submit a mixed-use planning application for the former Advanta Seeds site in Sleaford.
“The scheme will complement the regeneration plans of the council and enhance the vitality of the town centre by including a mix of retail, retirement living and other uses.
“We are currently consulting with the public ahead of the submission and more information can be found on display boards in our Sleaford store.
“The consultation will run from now until Sunday May 13.”