TESCO IRELAND is to seek planning permission within weeks from Cavan Town Council for a much larger store than its existing Main Street outlet. And it would be on an elevated site to the rear – acquired from the council itself.
Along with Cavan County Council, which owned part of it, the cash-strapped town council agreed to sell the nine-acre site, much of which would be used to provide some 400 free surface car parking spaces, to Tesco for €4.5 million.
The supermarket group, which is now the world’s third-largest retail chain (after Walmart and Carrefour), is also contributing €1.5 million towards the construction of a new inner relief road that would serve the proposed development on Cock Hill.
The town council needs the money. Since 2002, it has been paying rent of €400,000 per year for a multi-storey car park that is seriously under-patronised by shoppers; the peak occupancy rate for its 400 spaces is 30 per cent.
But this car park does not form part of Tesco’s plans. It is physically separated by a bowling alley from the site acquired by the company. Instead, Tesco will lay out free surface parking with direct access for shoppers to its new 5,000sq m superstore.
Given that there is a 15m difference in levels between Cock Hill and the town centre, an external staircase and liftshaft would link the new car park to the sloping car park that currently serves Tesco’s outlet on Main Street and other shops.
The company intends to put its existing store on the market. “We’ve spoken to people in the market and had a very positive response from quite large retailers wanting to get into Cavan,” said Michael Sullivan, customer liaison manager with Tesco Ireland.
Penneys, Next and A-Wear are believed to be interested, as there is a shortage of large retail units in the town, according to town manager Ger Finn. Tesco would not, of course, contemplate a sale of the existing 3,000sq m store to any of its rivals.
But Pacelli Lynch, former president of Cavan chamber, said 20 per cent of commercial units in the town centre were empty and 35 per cent were in arrears on their rental payments. “If Tesco puts them under pressure, I could see half of them going under.”
He was astonished when both town and county councillors voted to approve the sale of land to Tesco. “To position a superstore on top of a hill with its back to the town core and its own private customer car park is flawed because it will kill the town centre.”
Having sold Tesco the site, Mr Lynch said the town council would now find itself “acting as judge and jury in its own court” in dealing with the imminent planning application.
“It should have carried out its own retail impact assessment before agreeing to the sale.
“We know from other towns that have experienced ‘Tescopoly’, the final result is devastation for the original town core and for peripheral towns,” he said.
“Statistics show that for every job created by a superstore, 1.5 to two jobs are lost in the locality.”
In Cavan’s case, he said this would be compounded if the company also got approval for an adjoining petrol filling station.
Mr Sullivan insisted that this was not part of the plans and said Tesco would seek to “integrate” the new store with the town centre.
“We’re fully confident that, by working with the chamber of commerce, we can have strong linkages that will draw people to and from Main Street. This benefits us as well as the town centre and we’ll continue to work with the chamber and the council on that.”
Mr Sullivan said Tesco saw the new store as a “great opportunity” to hold Cavan customers in the town, rather than having them go to Enniskillen or “get on the M3 and drive to Blanchardstown”. This would also have a “spin-off” for other retailers in Cavan.
Tesco previously considered relocating its Cavan store to Lakelands Retail Park on the Dublin road, 1.5km from the town centre, but it was told by the town council that this was not a runner. This eventually led to the site on Cock Hill being selected for the scheme.
“We were between a rock and a hard place”, Mr Finn said. “Cavan is also a town of humps and hollows, and where Tesco is planning to build its new store is a big drumlin really. But at least it’s close to the main street rather than on the outside of town.”