THE Waitrose store in Malmesbury is now up and running, but what sort of new neighbour will it turn out to be? First impressions are important and so far there is not enough indication that the fine retail image of the Waitrose brand is carrying across into how it wants to co-exist with its neighbours and the town in general.
A few ‘to co-exist with its neighbours’ examples?
It took bad press and the involvement of the county councillor and a Wiltshire enforcement officer before Waitrose stopped its arrangement for staff parking in breach of planning regulations in the conservation field adjacent to the store. Waitrose have still not taken away the worry for local residents that this parking won’t return or said that all staff car parking will be on the store car park.
The residents of the Silk Mills have had a number of promises made that haven’t yet been kept and now the building work is over it is proving very hard for them to get anyone at Waitrose who will help.
Waitrose, the developers and the county council have together left a poor finish to the surrounds of the store and who is going to take responsibility for sorting out the unsightly ‘gallows’ steps? It is clear though, according to the developers, that the council will be paying for their future maintenance.
The visual impact report, which was such an important part of the planning application, made clear the store was never meant to be seen from the Lower High Street and the Kings Wall — but it is. The subsequent promises made to install and operate blinds so light pollution didn’t spill into the town and the Silk Mills, and to turn off the front store lights and the illuminated Waitrose signs half an hour after closing, have not yet been kept.
If agreed, the latest Waitrose planning application at the site — for a four metre tall ‘illuminated totem pole’ on the Priory Roundabout and located in a conservation area overlooking a further conservation area — will turn Malmesbury into Waitrosebury.
A key part of the original planning application was that the store would be as visually inconspicuous as possible; this proposal says that Waitrose just does not care about this commitment, the controversial permission it has had to occupy a site in a conservation area or its relationship with Malmesbury.
All of these small problems can be fixed, but the longer they continue the less of a good neighbour Waitrose will be — and that just doesn’t make good commercial sense.
CAMPBELL RITCHIE, Baskerville, Malmesbury