Dear Editor, For those who missed the debate between Halesowen & Rowley Regis MP Sylvia Heal and James Morris the Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate on the BBC WM’s Ed Doolan show (Monday, Febraury 15).
One of the topics up for discussion was the lack of footfall on Cradley Heath High Street. It is widely recognised that Cradley Heath was always, and I stress the word was, one of the most popular market towns in the Black Country.
James Morris commented that the traders he had spoken to on the High Street thought business had declined since Tesco came to the town and they also stressed that Sandwell Council had since neglected the town centre. Sylvia Heal appeared to defend the Labour-controlled council and disagreed with this opinion by claiming that other local towns such as Blackheath, with Sainsbury’s, and Halesowen, now with Asda, were both thriving and that Cradley Heath was no different, suggesting that ‘the traders sometimes needed to help themselves’. Not the most supportive comment from our elected parliamentary representative. I personally think that’s a very unhelpful statement and I would assume that she has been a career politician and probably never run her own business, especially through a recession.
If Sylvia Heal were to visit Cradley Heath and speak to the local shop traders on the High Street she will discover that they’re not as happy as she might think. When Tesco first came to Cradley Heath many promises were made to the traders by Sandwell Council and to this day they have quite simply not been met. Original recommendations suggested that the store should be one third smaller in size so as not to impact too greatly on the rest of the town, however the council then chose to approve plans for a ‘superstore’ that well exceeded those recommendations. The old town car park that was swallowed up by the Tesco development was to remain a shopper’s car park for the benefit of both Tesco and the rest of the town and yet, as we now know to our cost, if you stay longer than three hours you are very likely to be fined. Sandwell Council also agreed to have signs directing shoppers to the town centre markets and to re-instate the town’s toilets, which were demolished to make way for the by-pass, but neither of these have ever materialised.
There is no denying that Tesco has brought an enormous amount of people from surrounding areas to Cradley Heath, which is very welcome, but unfortunately, due to the lack of foresight from Sandwell Council with regard to the store’s accessibility and integration into the town, the High Street is not reaping the benefits.
Listening to the comments made by Sylvia Heal during this debate you would think that retailing and manufacturing are both booming at the moment. I think she appears to be out of touch with what is really happening in the business world in her constituency and in particular in Cradley Heath.