16/02/2010

Planners Provoke Forecourt War

It's to be petrol nozzles at dawn as independent retailers battle Tesco in 'forecourt wars'.

The redevelopment of Northcott Shopping Centre in Newtownabbey - by Blanca Developments was given the go-ahead through the fast-stream Planning Service's Pre-Application Discussion system in December. Creating up to 200 new full and part-time jobs, there will also be around 250 positions for construction workers during the building project.

However, while the ageing Northcott Shopping Centre is to be demolished making way for the replacement Sandyknowes development, plans for a petrol filling station have proved a shock.

The forecourt was omitted from Tesco's pre-Christams Press announcement - but once the petrol pumps are operational, rivalry is likely to be a 'challenge' – and not just for competing supermarkets.

A 24-hour Maxol and Spar is 100 yards from the site of the £35m Tesco regeneration. Moyola Park - also Spar - is two minutes drive, and a third, a BP, is close too, in Glengormley 'village'.

Chair of Newtownabbey Borough Council's Planning Committee, Alderman Nigel Hamilton, (pictured above at the Glenwell forecourt) welcomed the rebuilding of the decrepit Northcott - but is also aware of the likely impact.

He warned that the 'new' Tesco jobs are welcome, but a further filling station will bring additional pressure to the vulnerable forecourts, which he said, "are dropping like flies in the current economic climate".

A spokesman for the Planning Service revealed: "The redevelopment of Northcott proposed a petrol filling station of 70m x 40m," which he said is well below the criteria for an assessment of the potential retail impact.
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"Policy focuses upon the retail floorspace, rather than their sales of fuel," he said, which means - no matter how many tens of thousands of gallons are pumped by Tesco - there is no need to consider long-established businesses.

"Tesco is expanding aggressively," said Paddy Doody, Sales and Marketing Director at Henderson Wholesale, the Spar and Vivo wholesaler, but Tesco's second Newtownabbey forecourt was no surprise.

He said that competition is "healthy" and that the fight has been joined with major work at the 'company-owned' Spar forecourt at Glenwell Road.

Providing another boost for the local construction industry, he revealed: "We will knock-down and rebuild in an investment of almost £2m, for re-opening this September," he said.

At Glengomley's Glenabbey Service Station, licensee Robert McNeice said: "Tesco plans to develop a new store including a petrol station in close proximity is worrying and is most likely to impact on fuel trade."

Brian Donaldson, General Manager, Marketing and Retail of the Maxol Group, said: "We welcome competition but only on the basis of a 'level playing field'.

"Supermarkets with forecourts generate 30% to 35% more on in-store grocery sales often using fuel to entice customers into their stores. This is clearly a big attraction to customers but isn't 'fair competition'," he said.

Corporate Affairs Manager for Tesco said: "Part of this development will include a petrol filling station which customers have told us they would like," he said.

Traders' responses are bullish, but a nearby former forecourt - the old Skyline – is now derelict and bears testimony to the fate of other such facilities when the going gets tough.

See: Tesco's Northcott Plan Approved

(BMcC/GK)

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