Retail giant relents in café row

SUPERMARKET giant Sainsbury’s, accused of breaching the trust of the people of Kelso by submitting plans for a large cafe in its new store on the outskirts of town, has relented at the eleventh hour.

TheSouthern can reveal that company chiefs met yesterday and agreed to halve the size of the proposed facility, which local traders believe will threaten their businesses and cost jobs.

The company will also abandon a proposal to sell hot meals from the cafe at the Pinnaclehill outlet which is due to open by the end of this year.

The change of heart by the company, which won widespread public support in its battle with Tesco to operate the town’s first superstore, will be formally reported to Monday’s meeting of the planning committee of Scottish Borders Council (SBC) and comes after discussions last month with Kelso Chamber of Trade.

Representing about 80 retailers, hoteliers and cafe owners, the chamber had championed the case for Sainsbury’s in its campaign to set up in Kelso.

After a protracted planning process, the company was finally successful in 2008, while rival Tesco dropped its challenge to run the store a year ago.

But after hearing on March 16 of Sainsbury’s proposal for a mezzanine cafe with capacity for 104 customers, the chamber wrote to SBC in strong terms.

Sainsbury’s wants the planning committee to vary a condition of the 2008 consent which states that the store should be limited to gross floor space of 4,500 square metres. This stipulation was the direct result of the findings of a three-month public inquiry which concluded in January, 2007.

That variation, involving an increase in floor space of 500sq m to accommodate the cafe, is due to be considered on Monday.

But yesterday’s decision means the company will reduce its cover capacity to 60 and, although coffee, soup and sandwiches will be available, hot meals will be off the menu.

In its submission to SBC, written after the March 16 meeting, the chamber said: “We see no change in circumstances for any variation [of the planning condition].

“The chamber has supported Sainsbury’s in no small way, but recent meetings have suggested it has not been entirely straight with SBC, the townspeople and the business community of Kelso.”

The traders claim that at an open day in February, Sainsbury’s literature implied the café was a new addition “for old ladies waiting on a bus”.

“However on March 16, the firm’s national development surveyor [Paul Miller] informed us it was always their intention to have a café. We feel Sainsbury’s are cynically manipulating the planning process to get the store they always planned,” stated the chamber’s letter.

That submission was one of 18 objections to the planning committee, which has been recommended to approve the café proposal by its local planning officer Andrew Evans.

Anne Brooks, of the Ednam House Hotel, wrote: “The newly proposed coffee area with 104 seats will be totally detrimental to the existing town centre businesses running a similar activity. This overprovision would be instrumental in the demise of the smaller establishments in the town centre... with inevitable job losses.”

But Mr Miller told us yesterday: “I am pleased that SBC’s planning service is supportive of our proposal to increase the size of the store to accommodate a cafe and additional space for our colleagues.

“I met recently with the Kelso Chamber of Trade and individual cafe owners regarding their concerns over the addition of the cafe and the effect this may have on their businesses.

“Sainsbury’s has a long-standing relationship with the chamber and values the support it has given us in bringing our brand to Kelso.

“As a business, we have made the decision to voluntarily reduce the covers in the cafe from 104 to 60 in response to the concerns that were raised with us.

“We hope this gesture will be appreciated by local traders and will enable us to continue to work positively with the people of Kelso as we move forward with the store build.”