SUPERMARKET giant Tesco is set to generate 620 new jobs with its ambitious plans for Huddersfield, it was claimed today.
Tesco said its £120m plans to build a new store and redevelop its existing site would bring major employment opportunities.
The company expects to create 270 new jobs at the new store – to add to its existing store workforce of 300.
And it predicts that its plans for shops, offices, flats and a 72-bed hotel on the current store site will bring another 350 posts.
Tesco has been heavily criticised by MP Barry Sheerman and town centre traders over plans to build a new store at Southgate. But the firm said its proposals represented “a huge catalyst for change for the better”.
It pledged that its developments for the Leeds Road “gateway” to the town – including building apartments, shops, offices and a hotel on the site of its existing store – would provide a “wow factor” when viewed alongside neighbouring buildings such as the Media Centre.
Critics have complained about the look of the proposed store and its potential impact on other retailers. They have also questioned how much power Tesco has been able to wield in its discussions with Kirklees Council over the plans.
Tesco’s corporate affairs manager Neil Skitt said the company had consulted widely on its proposals – with traders, community groups, councillors and members of the public, adding: “We want to involve as many people as we possibly can. They are giving us a feel for what people want and what they don’t want.”
Mr Skitt said that a final design for the new store had yet to be decided, although Tesco has released images of how the store could look.
He said: “We are conscious that the site is a gateway to the town and we want to make it an outstanding piece of architecture. We hope the final design will have wide appeal to the people of Huddersfield.
“We hope to submit our application in the next month or two, but that is subject to discussions with the council and we would rather get it right than go for a specific date and not get it right.”
Mr Skitt said Tesco was going “over and above” its normal design practices to make sure the new Huddersfield store had a positive impact on the town.
Mr Skitt stressed that demand for the new store was being driven by customers. “The existing store is not what customers want,” he said. “It is not big enough to cover all the things they want to buy. Redeveloping the store on that site is not financially viable.
“What we want to replace that store with is a visually stunning scheme that will provide more than 200 flats – 60 of them affordable homes – along with retail units, office space and a 72-bed hotel.
“It is going to be fantastic to have the Media Centre, the redeveloped store site and the new Tesco store over the road. It will create a wow factor and it will generate benefits for the local economy with new shops and residents using those shops.”
The new store would be one of 21 “partnership” stores operated by Tesco where most of the new recruits are drawn from the local long-term unemployed.
“We will stage an open day for people to learn more about the jobs available,” he said. “They will have an interview and they will be told the same day if the are to be offered a job. They will then have an eight-week training course.
“The interview is not done on the basis of academic qualifications but to find out what they are like and whether they have ‘people’ skills. There will be many opportunities for people as a result of this scheme.”
Mr Skitt said the new Tesco store was vital to help Huddersfield maintain its position as a regional shopping centre. “If things are left as they are, our shoppers will go to other Tesco stores,” he said. If they go elsewhere, you will get ‘leakage’ out of the town.
“We want to retain our customer base in Huddersfield and we want to bring more people into Huddersfield to shop with us and other retailers in the town – whether that’s with existing shops or the new retail units.’’
As part of the plan, Tesco is providing funds to allow Kirklees Council to invest £28m in a new sports centre – with Springwood earmarked as the most likely location. Mr Sheerman claimed Tesco had “run rings” round the council to ensure the retailer got its way.
But Mr Skitt insisted the council had not given Tesco an easy time in talks about its plans.
“Kirklees has been very robust in saying what they like and what they don’t like,” he said. “They have been challenging and absolutely clear about what they want. That’s what we like from a local authority because that’s what ensures the success of the scheme.
“We don’t expect an easy ride in terms of our planning applications and Kirklees have not given us one.”