Sainsbury’s and Asda are likely to have to sell one of their Charlton stores if the two supermarket giants are allowed to go through with their plans to merge, according a report from the competition watchdog.
The two superstores are among 629 locations where a tie-up between the two companies could result in a “substantial lessening of competition”, the Competition and Markets Authority said in a provisional report on the merger plan, released on Wednesday.
The two supermarket giants announced plans for a tie-up last April, and it has been widely reported that the combined company would take one pound out of every three spent by UK grocery shoppers. But the CMA says a combination of the two firms could mean shoppers would “face higher prices, reduced quality and choice, and a poorer overall shopping experience across the UK”.
While the strength of the CMA’s concerns about the merger could force the two companies to abandon their plans, Sainsbury’s and Asda have said they want to go ahead with the tie-up.
The full report was made public on Thursday afternoon. As well as the two Charlton stores, the CMA has raised issues about stores in Lewisham, New Cross, Abbey Wood, Kidbrooke, Peckham, Deptford, Old Kent Road, Isle of Dogs, Bexleyheath and Belvedere.
Both retailers also have petrol outlets within close proximity of each other, as Sainsbury’s retailed the filling station from its former Greenwich store, now replaced by an Ikea. These outlets are also highlighted by the CMA.
As well as their two Bugsby’s Way superstores, Sainsbury’s also has a Local supermarket on Charlton Church Lane. This is not included in the CMA’s list of concerns.
The Charlton store only opened in 2015, and there have been anecdotal reports that trading has been slower than expected – one consequence of its move from east Greenwich was that the store was cut off from shoppers who would take a bus down the hill from Blackheath. But a new store could be attractive to a rival such as Morrisons, which lacks a store between Peckham, Welling and Thamesmead.
The full Competition and Markets Authority report will be released in April.
The area around Charlton’s Asda superstore could be earmarked for housing under plans being consulted on by Greenwich Council.
We’re still waiting to hear what the council has up its sleeve for redeveloping Charlton’s riverside – plans to reveal a new Charlton Riverside Masterplan have been postponed until the spring.
But you can find a few clues about what’s going on in the snappily titled Greenwich Local Plan Site Allocations consultation. It’s not being very well publicised, but it’s happening now and will have a bearing on the future development of Charlton and the wider borough of Greenwich.
This is about allocating particular sites in the borough for particular uses. For example, the unbuilt plots at Greenwich Millennium Village are allocated for housing.
Much of the focus is on Charlton’s riverside area – and that includes the possibility of converting much of SE7’s retail space into housing and community uses.
The Asda site, together with the retail parks and industrial premises that surround it, are part of one area suggested for “residential, non-retail commercial/employment uses, community infrastructure including open space, and an area of search for schools”.
“Current uses are out of-town retail, threatening growth of retail development in other centres,” the consultation says – a not-very-subtle way of saying Woolwich’s development as a shopping centre is being throttled by Charlton’s retail parks.
The effect of Charlton’s retail parks on Woolwich has been a running sore with Greenwich Council for decades. Big box retail first came to Charlton in the 1970s when Makro – aimed at business customers – opened on the site of the old greyhound stadium.
In the early 1980s, Greenwich Council originally refused permission for Asda to open its Charlton store, but was overruled by a planning inspector. Local newspapers at the time reported that plans for a new Co-op store, which would have been the centrepiece of a redeveloped Woolwich town centre, would be axed if Asda went ahead. It’s pretty much undeniable that Woolwich entered a long period of decline from about that time.
Since those early days, retail parks have opened across the Charlton riverside area – with the council’s blessing. The latest – an extension to the misleadingly-named Greenwich Shopping Park – is under construction.
It now appears the council is trying to turn back the tide. The plans don’t affect the retail parks’ ability to trade from their existing sites. But expansion or replacement could be more difficult – and selling up for housing could be more lucrative.
There’s a useful interactive map on the Greenwich Council website – here’s the plans as they affect Charlton and immediately adjacent areas.
Charlton Riverside West (Asda, Ramac industrial estate, surrounding retail parks): “Residential and area of search for schools.”
Charlton Riverside North West Industrial (north of Makro): “Industrial uses compatible with PIL (SIL) and area of search for Waste facility to include a Vacuum Waste Collection Centre and a Reuse and Recycling Centre.”
Charlton Riverside Central (Makro, Stone Lake Retail Park, Stones Foundries, Penhall Road) “Residential, small scale retail, employment use. Seconday and primary school area of search. To include bus and cycle east-west route and transport interchange at the south western corner of the site opposite Charlton Church Lane.”
Thames Barrier approach and Eastmoor Street (car breakers’ yards, etc): “Community open space to include playing pitch which could be dedicated for school use, replacing playing pitch north of UTC building if the existing playing pitch is needed for school expansion.” (A neighbouring zone, Charlton Educational, covers Windrush Primary School and the Greenwich University Technical College.)
Land to the south of Thames Barrier: “Safeguarding for Flood Defences, only a use compatible with this is to be considered, such as Community Open Space.”
Harrington Way (area around Second Floor Arts): “Existing historic buildings to be retained and used for B1, offices , creative uses, studios in accordance with IBP designation.”
Westminster Industrial Estate (immediately to east of Thames Barrier site): “Existing historic buildings to be retained and used for B1, offices , creative uses, studios.”
Morris Walk, Maryon Grove estates:“Redevelopment for improved quality and intensification of residential uses” – which looks like this little-publicised 13-storey tower planned for the site of the Albion pub on the Woolwich side of Morris Walk.
Maryon Road estates: “Redevelopment for improved quality.” No tower blocks, then.
This last one’s interesting – the Angerstein Triangle is an old railway yard (there’s still a set of steps linking it to Westcombe Park station) that was once proposed as the terminal for what became the Jubilee Line extension. Perhaps this is still sitting in planners’ minds. Charlton Champion reader Stephen Baycroft suggests it “should instead be rezoned into parkland and/or community facilities” to ease the pressure of lorries coming down residential streets.
Finally, both The Valley and the Rectory Field remain zoned as community open space under the proposals.
Naturally for a set of council proposals that directly affect Charlton, none of the roadshows for the scheme are taking place here.
Instead, you can talk to planners at the Greenwich Centre on Saturday 27 February from 2pm-5pm, and at the Woolwich Centre on Thursday 3 March from 4pm-7pm. More details on the Greenwich Council website.