Every time a planning decision is made that you disagree with, it's likely that you missed the public consultation which would have enabled you to disagree in advance. Equally, even the very best planning applications contain minor niggles that make them less than perfect, but which you could easily have pointed out if only anyone had asked. So it's been good of Tesco to ask my local community what they think of proposals to double the size of their superstore in Bromley-by-Bow, and of plans to stick a library, hotel and housing nextdoor. Sadly only a handful of the local community have so far taken up the opportunity.
There was a "Community Forum" event at Kingsley Hall last night, hosted by the Tower Hamlets planning team, at which a suited Tesco threesome were given a public opportunity to put forward their proposals. Slightly revised from those they presented in September, and which I outlined here, but this time a teensy-bit more firmed up. And another chance to screen their very impressive computer generated "fly-through", so that we could all gulp and go "blimey, really, gosh" and "oh look, they can't spell pedestrain crossing". The area facing redevelopment is to the eastern side of the A12 close to Bromley-by-Bow tube station, including the current Tesco and the industrial land between that and the railway. Everything here could look very different before the Olympics, and even more different a couple of years later.
It was illuminating to hear Tesco's representatives belittling the current Bromley-by-Bow store as badly-stocked and underperforming. Serves us all right for doing our shopping there for several years, I guess. But the new Tesco Extra, if built, will be a whopper. Almost Beckton-sized, we were told, with all the increased traffic that might bring. It'll have a "bespoke sustainable roof design" which'll let in plenty of light, and an underground car park with 480 spaces. That's only 30 spaces more than exist outside the store today, so let's hope that a larger proportion of the new shoppers arrive by public transport.
Plans are afoot for much more than just a megastore. 18 adjacent retail units for a start, hopefully selling goods that can't be undercut by Tesco nextdoor, and perfect for residents who can't be bothered to go to the new Stratford Westfield up the road. There'll be a 10 storey hotel, probably of the Travelodge/Premier Inn style, with another 10 storeys of apartments piled high on top. I can't imagine wanting to stay here myself, not unless it's a particular few weeks in mid-2012, but a cut-price room beside a Zone 2 tube station should have potent backpacker appeal. There'll be a medium-sized Idea Store, for which all credit to Tower Hamlets council for squeezing a souped-up library out of a multinational. And a gym! I cannot imagine a £500-a-year gym being popular in Bromley-by-Bow today... but the proposed future is, I suspect, rather yuppier.
Many attendees were interested in transport-related issues. Would there be any new bus services? No, and they were sorry TfL couldn't be persuaded to reinstate the S2. Would the subway under the A12 from the tube station be upgraded and enlarged and better lit? Yes, and about time too. How would cars approach the new district centre? Via a new "all movements junction" on the dual carriageway, which when installed would become the only traffic lights between Poplar and the Redbridge roundabout. Last night's attendees were split between delight at a non-subterranean pedestrian crossing of the A12, and concern that speeding Blackwall-bound traffic might not really want to stop.
And what of timing? If all goes to plan and the appropriate land is snapped up, construction will begin around this time next year. The new MegaTesco will then be ready to open in March 2012, just in time to sell to grab-and-go sandwiches to visiting Olympic tourists. The Idea Store would also open at this time, and the 18 neighbourhood shops, and hopefully the renovated subway. But as for the 25%-affordable housing on the old Tesco site, plus the new hotel and the new park and the new school, expect these no earlier than 2014. Drivers on the A12 need fear no new pedestrian crossing until 2014 either, because there are rules in place banning any kind of major road upgrade before the Olympics.
None of this is yet a fait accompli. Tesco are putting in their planning application at the end of the month and then Tower Hamlets will go through all the appropriate official consultation stages into the New Year. There'll then be full opportunity for local residents to inspect and interact with the proposals, including via an as-yet-unregistered website called tescoinbromleybybow.co.uk (dangerous things, as-yet-unregistered websites). Up until now the consultation has been Tesco's own, farmed out to a private liaison company who've been busy gathering feedback. I was impressed to hear that "1000 expressions of support" had been received, but less than reassured when the consultants admitted that a huge proportion of these had been obtained by approaching shoppers in the existing store. I trust that the E3 community will give Tesco's plans rather more diligent scrutiny in the months ahead, but I bet that 99% of them won't even notice until the whole megaplex is eventually underway.