If you've never lived around here, you probably don't know Bromley-by-Bow very well. It has speckles of history and loveliness, but on the whole this patch of London is relentlessly poor, characterised by social housing and tenement blocks. It's home to a large Bangladeshi population, many of whom live crowded into unsuitable apartments hemmed in alongside a gridlocked arterial road. Bromley High Street isn't an alluring retail destination, more a tiny huddle of betting shops, laundrettes and Halal-friendly grocers. If any entrepreneur attempted to open a coffee shop or delicatessen around here, their business would fail within weeks. I wouldn't live anywhere else, obviously.
But, oh boy, is all this about to change? A new amenity-rich district centre for Tower Hamlets is about to be parachuted into the existing neighbourhood, with its focus around unloved Bromley-by-Bow tube station. To the southwest the first part of this transformation is already underway, with Barrett Homes busy erecting shiny blocks on the site of demolished St Andrew's Hospital. But on the opposite side of the A12, around where the Tesco superstore now stands, something rather more astonishing is planned. I'm just back from the consultation event, and I wonder if Bromley-by-Bow is really ready for the approaching onslaught of a cosmopolitan lifestyle.
Tesco are the main protagonists here, making the most of the land they own between the dual carriageway and the river. A patch of neighbouring industrial land will be levelled and a brand new twice-the-size megastore constructed, with a 500-ish capacity car park concealed in a subterranean cavern beneath the store. This new Tesco will be an environmental showpiece, so they say, and is scheduled for completion by 2012 (subject to planning permission). In place of the old supermarket will go 460 new homes, which'll be lovely assuming you like living in a glassy green box in the sky. And there'll also be a much needed primary school tucked in beside the river, literally in the shadow of the new Tesco. The usual stuff when regeneration of an area is mooted.
But it's the surrounding extras that've made me gasp, such as a 100-bed hotel close to the station. Even with the Olympics coming up, I find it hard to believe that any visitor would choose to stay in a hotel in darkest E3 (unless it's because the rooms are ridiculously cheap). A new park is proposed beside the bridge over to Three Mills, which it seems can be achieved by replacing the lower extremes of Tesco's existing car park by grass. An extra junction will be added on the A12, and the existing underpass realigned and brightened up. Tesco may also be helping to fund a new library (sorry "Idea Store") to kickstart learning and training for those who can't be bothered to travel the mile to a similar building in Roman Road. And then a whole new shopping mall is planned at "Imperial Square" outside the MegaTesco, featuring 18 outlets considerably more upmarket than any which grace B-by-B today. The aspiration is for high street chains to move in, selling goods that current residents would have to travel miles to buy. But I suspect that current residents aren't the target audience.
What's planned for medieval Bromley-by-Bow is a sharp regenerative tug to lure in Londoners who might never before have considered living here. The Docklands banker; the professional family; the young couple with a hankering for antipasti, weekend cycling and riverside cappucinos - I don't see many of their kind around here at the moment. It'll be quite frankly astonishing if large numbers of folk with disposable incomes begin to colonise my local area within the next few years, but under these new plans also quite possible. I'm a little uncomfortable that a major supermarket chain appears to be the driving force behind one key quadrant of the revitalised neighbourhood, especially given the unqualified architectural atrocity they've recently opened as part of a block of flats along Bow Road. But Tesco were already a major stakeholder in the Bromley-by-Bow development zone, so any future plans were always going to be shareholder-focused and profit-friendly.
On leaving the exhibition, the consultation team were particularly keen that I make my voice heard by filling in a questionnaire, and maybe also a 'support' form. Positive feedback from residents might, they think, significantly increase the scheme's chance of success when it comes up before the Tower Hamlets planning committee. Outside in Bromley High Street some local pushchair-mums wandered by without giving the exhibition a second look. They don't know what's about to hit them.