Tesco is abiding by the terms of planning consent in relation to the floor space laid aside for non-food items as a result of its new extension, Lerwick Community Council heard last night.
Last week Laurence Smith of Lerwick Town Centre Association accused the supermarket firm of breaching the agreement with Shetland Islands Council and warned that it was putting the future viability of the town centre at risk.
But store manager Paul Clelland insisted the work was in tune with what was originally proposed when he was questioned by community councillors, adding that the store was only providing what customers had indicated was needed.
He was backed by councillor Gussie Angus, who had contacted the council’s planning department for confirmation before the meeting took place.
Floor space will be increased from 13,000 sq ft to 25,000 sq ft as part of the extension, which is expected to be completed as soon as July before work is done to reconfigure the shop’s layout by the end of August.
Mr Clelland has advocated the work ever since the supermarket took over the former Somerfield store two years ago, insisting the limitations on the building make working practices difficult for the shop’s growing numbers of staff.
Community councillor Karen Fraser was eager to know how Tesco responded to claims it had been devious over its plans to stock non-food goods.
Mr Clelland said customer demand had changed after people had seen what was on offer in similar stores down south.
“When we applied for planning 18 months ago, it was in the early stages of us running the store,” he said. “We had a limited understanding of how the shop was trading and what our customers were looking for. Some of our customers have been putting a lot of demand on us to stock some of the stuff they see when on the mainland.”
He added that analysis of the store’s performance had shown a “significant over-trade” in non-food items.
“There is a demand to make these areas bigger. We have proposed a plan that the vast majority of our customers are looking for,” he said.
Just to be clear, councillor Allan Wishart asked Mr Clelland if he was confident the project still complied with planning regulations.
“That is our current understanding – that we’re acting within these guidelines,” Mr Clelland replied.
As well as the extension, Mr Clelland said more emphasis was being put on stocking local produce, with the Lerwick store getting in “almost double” the locally-produced items Somerfield stocked.
If anything, Tesco could bring huge benefits to producers such as the Valhalla brewery in Unst, with possibilities opening up for the local beer to appear on Tesco shelves across the country.
“When Sonny [Priest] moves into his new facility we’ll look to get that product networked throughout Scotland,” said Mr Clelland.
“We’ve started to stock L[erwick] F[ish] T[raders] products, Wild Water Salmon products, and we have extended our range of JK Mainland products,” he said.
Questions were asked whether the newly developed store might include a café, or feature a home delivery service.
Mr Clelland said Tesco cafés were normally provided by large franchises such as Starbucks or Costa in bigger Tesco stores than Lerwick can offer even with the extension.
Similarly, the store facilities are not big enough for the “dot com model” operated by large stores down south capable of providing home deliveries, he said.
Many voices were largely in favour of Tesco, especially if it opened up the possibility of cheap petrol being brought to the isles.
Unfortunately, Mr Clelland said the existing site did not offer enough room for a petrol station, especially as the car park was being made larger to accommodate all the vehicles that currently have to turn away at the weekends.
He said he had come to understand the “emotive” issue of fuel prices since coming to the isles, and said the prospect of offering petrol had been considered.
“The benefits to the store would be immense, because I know what reaction we get on the mainland when there are fuel coupons,” he said.
Customers will still benefit from a vastly improved store, however, with an extended bakery department in the pipeline.
The currently rather cramped space for wines and spirits will also double from what it is now.
Different tastes will be catered for, with a range of Asian and Chinese foods going on offer once the extension is finally stocked up.
Two and a half aisles will be used to stock electrical goods, and a small section towards the back of the store will see a range of clothing on offer.
Also in the extension will be frozen foods, health and beauty products, household goods and pet foods.
Extra checkouts will be provided to improve the flow of customers paying for their groceries. Six self-scan checkouts and seven main-bank checkouts will feature in the store.
Big changes will be made behind the “staff only” doors as well. At the back a larger cage marshalling store will be provided. Double-deck trailers, capable of holding up to 65 cages each, will be provided to help staff take deliveries taken from the ferries more efficiently.
A larger dairy chill will be built to hold the 25 cages of dairy products which come in to the store every day.
That means management can do away with the expensive 40ft refrigerated units currently outside in the back yard.
Larger staff quarters will sit above the back of the extension. Its key highlights will include a proper kitchen where hot food will be on offer to staff, while microwaves and vending machines will also be on offer.
A staff room will provide seats for up to 36 members of staff, alongside a proper 12-seat training room, new cloakrooms and toilets.