February 17, 2012 : 'The whole thing has been done in a very misleading manner': residents speak out against Asda's Ferring superstore plans

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Asda Ferring
Residents of the coastal village of Ferring in West Sussex are fighting plans by Asda to build a superstore in the area. Nigel Benians of the Ferring Conservation Group describes the “misleading” way the store has been introduced and why residents are campaigning against it.

Ferring residents first heard about Asda's plans at the beginning of this month, when letters were pushed through our doors informing us of its plans to build a 60,000 sq ft superstore next to our village. We do not know how many houses received the letters but we believe it was a very small proportion of the 3,000 in the village. A neighbour in the next road then received a second letter the following day stating that Asda would start building on 20 February, to be finished before the Christmas period. Even fewer people appear to have received this second letter.

The whole thing has been done in a very misleading manner. The owner of the proposed Asda site previously used it for his garden furniture and DIY store, Country Fayre. In February last year he closed it, having applied for planning permission to rebuild the store further back on the site. He then applied for a large parking area in front of the new store and for unrestricted retail use. Having obtained all these permissions, he then decided he would lease the land to Asda for 25 years.

The letter we received invited us to an exhibition at the Village Hall the next weekend so Asda could describe how they intended to change the original planning proposal now that they had come out from behind the Country Fayre masquerade. We attended the presentation, which was very amateurish. We were given a questionnaire to fill out at end with the usual tricksy questions. I think a high proportion crossed through the whole thing on the basis they didn’t want the supermarket at all. However, at the end the Asda reps were going through the replies looking for plus points. Because so few comments were made maybe they will present that as general agreement with their proposal.

No value

We already have almost 40 shops and supermarkets owned by the main players* within seven miles of Ferring and can’t see any value in yet another one. The catchment area for all these shops is a slim nine mile corridor from West Durrington in the east to Littlehampton in the west, bounded by the sea on the southern side and the South Downs immediately to the north (see here).

Traditionally, this is an area of farms, plant nurseries and downland so it is hard to understand how all these supermarkets can survive without either poaching from small local shops and each other, or drawing people into the area from some distance away. There will be a war of attrition between the major players with no long term gains for anyone. I hear that the big Tesco store in West Durrington is already suffering and has had to lay off 60 staff.

Ferring, according to Age Concern, has the highest proportion of over 85s in the EEC so the value of another supermarket just north of the town is highly questionable. Most people would have to drive to get there, increasing the traffic load in Ferring, which is already under pressure. The local shops are extremely important to residents as most of the population are over retirement age and not necessarily that mobile.

The posters at the Asda presentation said the company incorporates “sustainable architectural features” in its store design, but part of the ASDA application to the Environment Agency concerns dumping treated sewage into a drainage ditch, which then flows into the Rife, our local stream. The outfall goes onto the bathing beach at Ferring, close to the Bluebird Cafe, and is only covered by the sea at high tide.

The Rife is a site of Local Nature Conservation Importance (SLNC) and is used by the local infant school for nature walks as well as dog walkers and other members of the public. The area is full of wildlife, with Little Egrets, Kingfishers, snails, newts and water voles common there. In addition, it is home to the rare Marsh Orchid, which is highly sensitive to water pollution.

We only found out about the application to the Environment Agency a week before the objection deadline of 13 February. We rallied the village to fight this and have now been given an extra 14 days to get personal objections lodged. This covert application has caused massive anger among residents and has significantly damaged Asda’s reputation. Our local MP and councillors believe the lack of transparency in this application is totally unacceptable.

Whatever they say or do from now on is likely to get a hostile reception from most residents.

*Aldi, Cooperative, Lidl, Morrisons, Sainsburys, Tesco, Waitrose
Update: March 30, 2012
Corporate Watch put Nigel's piece to Asda and asked if it would like to respond but have received no reply.

The company has been forced to drop its plan to pump sewage into the Rife after residents presented a petition with 1300 signatures to the Environment Agency.

The council has decided to postpone the vote on the minor amendments proposed by Asda to the original plan until more detail has been provided.
See also:

Get out of town: Ledbury residents resist Tesco development
September 6, 2011

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