13 November 2013

Save Sainsbury's Greenwich

So it is now official, Sainsbury's are to close their pioneering low energy supermarket in Greenwich after being open for less than 15 years and if approved it will be demolished to make way for an IKEA.  So a building that was awarded the RIBA Journal Sustainability Award in 2000 and was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize, the largest prize in British Architecture, the same year will be torn down after such a short period of time with barely a passing comment.

Is the sun about to set on
Sainsbury's Greenwich
 after less than 15 years trading?
We'll not as far as I am concerned!  You see I spent nearly five years of my early career developing the concept for what was then a pioneering development.  My team spent long hours designing a building that would redefine retail architecture and challenge the belief at the time, that all retailers required from their buildings was something to keep the customers, the technology required to moderate the internal environment and the fridges and freezers out of the rain.  The norm was for a dark, windowless interior, that was ultimately little more than a poorly built and badly performing shed, with no consideration given to customer comfort.  Lighting, heating and cooling were all achieved with inefficient mechanical systems, that wasted energy and did nothing to improve the conditions that customers were expected to endure.

So why is it considered obsolete and ready for demolition after such a short period of time?  On one level it is a victim of its own success; as since opening it has been well received by customers, achieving the highest Customer Satisfaction Index score for any Sainsbury's within the first year of trading.  As the number of people living on the peninsular has increased the store trade has outgrown the building and Sainsbury's want to move 500 meters away to a new store that will be three times the size and offer food and non-food along with an internet hub to serve online customers.  So the building is well liked and successful but still cannot find an alternative use?

So this is what gets me really annoyed, the reason why it cannot be relet to another tenant is that Sainsbury's will have in place a restrictive covenant on the building as part of their deal with the developer of their new store, preventing it from being used for food retailing.  I believe that this is anti-competitive and is a flagrant abuse of the planning system which originally granted consent for the development.  I have good memories of many meetings with English Partnerships and the London Borough of Greenwich as they considered our proposals and ensured that they were in keeping with local and national planning policies.  This process placed restrictions on the eventual consent including a requirement to review and reduce car parking provision over time and another to prevent extension in the first 10 years.  What none of us envisaged at the time was that once consent was granted it could be removed by Sainsbury's without any further democratic consideration and that by granting consent for retail use they could both have their cake and eat it, benefitting from the enhanced value of the asset that the consent crystallised but able to limit its scope so that only non-competing retailers could benefit when it no longer fulfilled Sainsbury's requirements.

To destroy an exemplar of
sustainable design best practice
 would be an act of vandalism
 that must not be permitted
This cannot be right.  If this restrictive covenant were not in place I am sure that there would be a long list of food retailers who would be only too willing to move in and pay the generous rents common in the sector.  The buildings would continue to be economically sustainable, the community would have a greater choice of where to shop and the environment would not be impacted by the destruction of carbon intensive construction after such a pitifully short period of time.  I feel very passionate about this; no architect should see their work destroyed as a result of underhand, un-democratic behaviour and not object.  The building is a good building and should not be demolished.  It must become a test case for the rhetoric that is now widely exposed by the sector to justify its dominant position in the nation's food supply chain.  It is not acceptable to promise communities sustainable development to gain planning consents simply to renege on those undertakings when it suits.  The government must urgently review restrictive covenant legislation to close this anti-competition loophole to prevent more perfectly serviceable buildings being destroyed to safeguard the self-interest of food retailers or others who would limit the use of land or buildings that they no longer require.  A free market must demand that this is the case and that the local communities that grant consent must be the ultimate arbiters of what can and cannot be done on any site.  If not, there is a real threat that the sector will be painted with the anti-competitive criticism that Tesco has previously been accused of.
Please support our campaign to #stopIKEA and #SaveSainsburysGreenwich by signing our online petition at:


1 comment:

  1. martyn1.12.13

    Would be happy to meet and discuss how/if we can stop this. Send me a message on Twitter and let's see. @martynwilliams2