SUPERMARKET giant Tesco has this week been accused of “breaking a promise to the people of Galashiels”.
The charge comes from Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker who claims Britain’s largest retailer has reneged on a commitment to meet the costs of rebuilding the facade of the town’s former government buildings.
Despite protests from a local heritage conservation group, the 100-year-old edifice in Market Street, which began life as a textile college, was demolished in 2006 to make way for the Tesco superstore in Paton Street.
Mr Parker said SBC has been in negotiations with the company for the past 18 months over the decorative facade, which is stored at a Tesco depot in Livingston, West Lothian, being potentially used as the frontage of the £5million Galashiels transport interchange building which is planned for Stirling Street to coincide with the opening of the Borders railway in 2014. These proposals were firmed up in November last year after an exhibition of two possible designs for the interchange building, with the majority of the public favouring the use of the old frontage, provided Tesco paid for its delivery and reconstruction.
But Mr Parker revealed yesterday that Tesco was unwilling to meet the estimated £700,000 that this would involve.
“Instead, all we have been offered is delivery of the stone plus £100,000 for community use – and that is nothing short of derisory,” he added.
A council press statement, revealing that an alternative modern design would now be used, recalled that former Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy had promised the people of Galashiels that the facade would be rebuilt in another part of the town following the development of the supermarket.
Asked to elaborate on the press statement, Mr Parker told TheSouthern: “The protracted talks with Tesco about how this gentlemen’s agreement should be fulfilled have left us with a very tight timescale to ensure the interchange is open on time, so, unless Tesco has a change of mind in the very near future, we will be forced to opt for a modern looking building which is not at all what we or the public wanted,” said Mr Parker. “There is no way I will be asking the Borders council tax payer to pay for Tesco’s broken promise.
“It is five months since we carefully, and with professional advice, costed the incorporation of the facade at around £700,000 and passed this onto Tesco. Unfortunately, we were told this month that they were only prepared to bring us the stones and donate £100,000.”
Responding yesterday, a spokesman for Tesco told us: “The press release which has been issued this week does not represent our private and confidential discussions with Scottish Borders Council. Until we saw the press release we had been working towards giving the stone to SBC for free and covering any reasonable costs. Discussion about this were, we thought, ongoing and moving closer to reaching an end point.
“When we built our new store in Galashiels we were asked to keep the stone and we did. We thought we had a suitable location for it [the transport interchange]. If SBC no longer wants the stone then we will dispose of it and find another good cause for the money. We are proud investors and significant employers in the Borders community and wish SBC every success with their transport project.”
SBC is in the process of assembling the land it requires for the transport interchange and last month a compulsory purchase order was served to acquire the Stirling Street bus station.
Galashiels councillor Fiona Lackenby yesterday appealed to Tesco to reconsider.
“It difficult for me to express how angry I am that Tesco has broken its promise to the people of Galashiels,” said Mrs Lackenby. “I cannot imagine that a multi-million pound business cannot spare the £700,000 we need to create a wonderful and unique building for Galashiels. This is a huge public relations own goal and I believe the firm seriously risks losing the goodwill of its customers.”
Tom Douglas, the farmer who formed an action group to fight the demolition of the government buildings, hit the headlines two years ago when he erected a huge sign on his land overlooking the town, proclaiming ‘Tesco Sucks’.
“It was my protest against the way this company has sucked the life out of the Galashiels retail community and this latest news comes as no surprise.
“The former textile college was a monument to the endeavours of working people in Galashiels and the proud industry they had created, then in comes Tesco and parasitically drains the life out of the town. This domination will go on if people continue to allow it by shopping there.”