Link to the Petition addressed to the Public Works Loan Board

Click here to access the i360 petition !

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Mike Weatherley, MP for Hove, will not seek re-election in 2015

Not long into his term as MP for Hove, Mike Weatherley suddenly faced a battle with oesophagal cancer.  It was not public knowledge; he kept it to himself; he soldiered on through what must have been a very stressful and demanding time as he also had to serve as Conservative MP for Hove (his choice).  Those who have experienced life-limiting health threats themselves can only marvel at his bravery and determination to boss it out and work to be healthy again.  But now he has taken the decision not to seek re-election at the 2015 General Election.  At the end of his letter to the Prime Minister he makes, perhaps his first ever, public reference to that illness, and to recovery “two years ago” .
We at saveHOVE have one huge reason to be grateful to our MP. 
Within just a few weeks of winning office, asked to sign our petition requesting Brighton & Hove City Council buy Connaught School, in Connaught Road, Hove from City College, he played a blinder.  
For some time it had been known that City College would sell Connaught as it had plans for a huge redevelopment at Pelham Street.  In anticipation of City College disposing of this 1890′s purpose built infant school turned adult education centre, Ninka Willcock, on behalf of the Brighton Society, worked for and gained a Grade 2 Listing for the building to  safeguard it from demolition. We heard Tesco wanted it, that flats would be built there.  Allsorts.
It was, however, known that, inexplicably, this building had not been allowed onto a shortlist of sites for a new primary school (but the scrub nursery area of Hove Park was!).  BHCC struggled to find a way to increase primary school places, in part because Govt diktat stated that no new schools could be set up by local authorities, that all new schools have to be Academies/Free Schools. And this part of Hove had NOTHING.  We had to act.
Just before the General Election, when a notice of closure, ahead of disposal, was posted outside the school, saveHOVE moved and began a petition to try to get it for primary school use again, and at the photo-call to advertise our new campaign, Action4Kids clmbed on board, and we thenceforth worked together to get it.  Then came the election of Mike Weatherley.
Fortunately for us, the new MP  had Robert Nemeth’s knowledge and interest in historic buildings on staff for advice. And he knew full well what his constituents wanted.  But trickily, his fellow Conservatives formed the Brighton & Hove City Council Administration.  So he called a meeting of Constituents, Councillors and Council officers to discuss it.  Red-faced Cllr Brian Oxley sat muttering into his lap, shaking his head negatively.  Cllr Jan Young (ward cllr) was incensed, enraged by obvious support in the room for the saveHOVE campaign.  Other serving cllrs attending seemed shellshocked and uneasy.  Labour’s Pat Hawkes, who had held Cllr Vanessa Brown’s brief in the previous Administration told residents she regretted that Connaught had been Listed.  She was totally opposed to Connaught being bought, refurbished and brought back into use as an infant school.  Why?  Whatever; by the end of the meeting, the new MP was publicly announcing he would be signing the petition.  And that was that.  The Administration was not going to go against their brand new MP.  We got the school as a satellite building for West Hove Infants and a full refurbishment of it too.  Without what he did, we would not have got that school.  Fact.  Petition or no petition.
Today, 3rd July, 2014, at 12:38, this email arrived from MP Mike Weatherley, sent to those on his newsletter emailing list.   It said the following:
“I write today as I wish to let all those who receive my regular news updates know that I will not be standing for re-election at the General Electionin 2015.
As you can imagine, this has been an incredibly difficult decision to make.  Below is my letter to the Prime Minister which he has received today.  I wanted to let my constituents know this news before it is circulated to the press later today. 
I look forward to continuing to represent the wonderful residents of Hove and Portslade until May next year.”
Mike Weatherley’s  letter to the Prime Minister said the following:
It is after profound consideration that I write to inform you that I will not be standing for re-election at the General Election in 2015.
I have nothing but huge admiration for the work of the Government over the past four years, including what has been done to get our economy back on track. In Hove and Portslade, this has translated to a drop in unemployment of a staggering 37.5%. I am strongly in favour too of our efforts to reform our membership of the EU but even more so of our pledge of a referendum in 2017 as I have mentioned to you directly on a number of occasions.
In terms of my own work, I have proudly served on the Administration and Justice Select Committees. I have campaigned relentlessly, with much success, to bring common sense to our laws on residential squatting. I have fought hard on a number of animal rights issues and firmly believe that the hunting ban should remain in place. I have also highlighted the dangers of nuclear power and, indeed, the benefits of solar and other renewables.
Over the past year, I have taken immense pride in serving as your Intellectual Property Adviser. I am sure that you will agree that we have made huge steps towards really getting politicians and industry talking – which is key to making the most of our country’s wealth of creative talent. It would be a privilege to continue offering my assistance in this regard.
It goes without saying that my years representing the wonderful people of Hove and Portslade have been one of the most fulfilling periods of my life which I will look back on with very fond memories. I have made so many friends over the years including so many of my loyal supporters both in and out of Brighton & Hove Conservatives. I cannot thank them enough.
Ultimately, beating cancer two years ago has led me to review what I want for the future. It has been the toughest decision of my life but I do feel that now is the time to move on.
Yours sincerely
MIKE WEATHERLEY MP
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A Whistleblower, the EFA, and the the Spanish Bilingual Primary School

The EFA’s Internal Audit Investigation Team has looked at 10 allegations of financial impropriety, including allegations of fraud on the part of the Bilingual Primary School.  Last week the school, currently based at Falmer, was given planning consent (June 4th, 2014) to put a three-form entry new school into the Hove Park Gardeners’ Depot, and on Thursday, 12th June 2014 Policy & Resources are expected to award a 125 year lease to this school for that Hove Park land with the price tag kept secret from the public.  The committee report  gives very little indication of how the leasehold would work or how much the school could profit from having it to sell on.
The Bilingual Primary School Brighton and Hove investigation report” was published April 2014 and an online link to it was provided to each member of the Policy & Resources Committee (Jason Kitcat, Ollie Sykes, Bill Randall, Sue Shanks, Geoffrey Theobald, Ann Norman, Garry Peltzer Dunn, Warren Morgan, Leslie Hamilton, Jeane Lepper) over the weekend and to Hove Park Ward Cllrs Jayne Bennett and Vanessa Brown.  Deferment of the Thursday land leasing decision at Policy & Resources was requested pending the outcome of the EFA’s followup report in July (seeking financial compliance).  Only Cllr Bennett has acknowledged receipt.  Deafening silence from the rest. No deferment.
Surely within its conduct of due diligence, BHCC should not be entering into this 125 year land lease agreement while this outstanding investigation is ongoing/unresolved and the school has no formal staff position dealing with its finances or anyone to ensure Minutes are adequately available for Governors’ meetings. The bilingual school’s website as it stood a few days ago only advertises for a teacher, but nothing else.
The report says that “The academy was subject to an EFA visit to validate their Financial Management and Governance self-assessment in June 2013″.  Problems were identified and an action plan created.  On 23 January, 2014 the school informed the Education Funding Agency ((EFA) that they expected financial allegations to be made about them.  Later that day the whistleblower, whose identify is not published, did indeed then contact them with the 10 allegations listed in the report.  It is clear the EFA is unwilling to be especially critical but the report does uphold the gist of the whistleblower’s allegations and note a few issues of their own.  Such as non-compliance with the Action Plan agreed last year.  The EFA seems not to follow things up….to rely on whistleblowers if there is any issue.  Recently it has become clear the EFA may have bitten off more than it can chew where oversight and regulation of its free schools is concerned. 
These (essentially) DIY schools can put what they like into a curriculum, are not required to provide lunch facilities (or play space, we learned at Planning).  They are given accreditation without having premises or permanent finance staff.  Allowed to wing it a bit.  The report says “The Academies Financial Handbook is only being met in part” and it highlights “the lack of an experienced clerk to minute and report” on Governors’ meetings. So not allowed to wing it entirely….as long as there is a whistleblower to flag up non-compliance.  
You can read the EFA report for more details by clicking on the title link below:
The Bilingual Primary School Brighton and Hove investigation report April 2014

  THERE HAS NOT BEEN ANY OFSTED INSPECTION

Googling for more information, an interesting Local Schools Network blog entry by Janet Downs turned up, with informative comments from Per Nordstrom.  It is dated 29.4.14 with comments over some days which indicates this report has been in the public realm since then; and it is astonishing that there has been no local reporting of it in the media. Even more astonishing is the fact BHCC say this school performs well, yet, in this blog we learn there has not yet been an Ofsted Inspection to formally ajudge this!  On what basis does BHCC flag it up  as fab?
You can read the blog and comments by clicking on the link below:
Janet Downs’ Local Schools Network article and comment trail

THE WEIRD STUFF AT PLANNING

It was baffling to see planning consent given, for Cllr Ian Davey to airily decree that parents & staff could use the Goldstone Retail Park for parking and for other cllrs to commit Coral’s Greyhound Stadium and Waitrose to offering their parking facilities to parents and staff too.  There was nothing in writing offering parking space, please note! 
Cllr Dee Simson made a serious attempt at a probing question of substance.  She asked the woman speaker for the school how many kids would be using the on-site play space at any one time.  She never did get a straight answer.  She was left to make assumptions.  Cllr Theobald asked if they couldn’t do a two form entry instead of a three-form.  One of the three speakers for the application said funding would not be given for two-form entry.  But saveHOVE has a copy of an email provided to an associate indicating that this response may not have been entirely right.
It was astonishing to listen to cllrs dismiss any likelihood that 630 children using Hove Park for play space during all weathers could possibly create any kind of park use or maintenance problem.  Green Cllr Mike Jones was especially dismissive on this.  And yet only a few months ago, BHCC cllrs voted to start charging fitness clubs, etc. for their use of seafront lawns and park spaces because of costs incurred from damage to grass which they have to re-turf (at taxpayer expense).  For many years the Brunswick Town resident groups have wailed mightily about sports use of Hove Lawns and the damage inflicted there.  But the rank and file councillor is oblivious.  Not plugged into this issue.  Not very Green.  10 mature trees will also be felled to widen the entrance to the school.  Sounding like her partner Tom Druitt needed to be appeased, (he who famously climbed the Seven-Dials tree to save it after she took a committee decision to fell it), Green Cllr Alex Phillips trotted out a few words of “concern” about the loss of trees but no reat objection and she voted with the others (unanimous) to build this school on what is currently and legally Hove Park land.
You can read the report (and Conditions of consent) by clicking on the link below:
The Planning Committee Report of 4.6.14 for BH2014/00922

To read the report to Policy & Resources Committee please click the link below:
Policy and Resources Agenda Item 15
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Spanish bilingual Primary School – 2nd application for Hove Park Depot

BH2014/00922

There have been very many visits to this website seeking information about the bilingual school’s latest application.  Sadly, only material from the first application has been available and I hope people realised they were looking at old articles.
The 2nd application is minded to grant and goes to Planning Committee 2pm, Hove Town Hall, 4th of June 2014. 
Instead of putting 630 kids and 50 teachers into 3 storeys, the new plan is to put them into 2 storeys.  There is virtually no on-site play space so of course they quietly deny whilst salivating over the prospect of commandeering Hove Park itself – which will put immense noise and activity into the serene, badger and other wildlife friendly northernmost green and peaceful oasis part of it.  The southern part of Hove Park is where all the playspace, cafe, tennis, etc. is concentrated.  This school would urbanise a beautiful green space (and they will fell 10 trees needed for nesting sites to boot).
This proposed school would mean selling a section of Hove Park which has been a gardeners depot for some years and before that a plant nursery for Parks & Gardens which served both Brighton and Hove before unification.  Planning consent alone will not allow a school to be built there, however 
Because an indoor bowls facility was to be off-housed into the depot during the Karis King Alfred application of old (now defunct), BHCC organised removal of the park-use-only Covenant on that section of Hove Park.  The bowls facility was never consented or built.  And Hove Park ward cllr Vanessa Brown, as Cabinet Member for schools under the previous Conservative Administration rather foolishly agreed to her dept. putting the site on a list as somewhere to build a school.  It was never designated for that use in any planning policy document however.  And whilst saveHOVE asked if a planning brief could be prepared which would allow a proper consultation of the entire area of stakeholders to establish how best to use that site, the Green Administration only said ‘yes’ in answer to the public question, but did nothing to produce one. 
This Free School application is a disaster for that corner of Hove, its road use, resident and park user amenity – for the sanctity and value of beautiful Hove Park.  At a time of increasing population in the area, it is not right to reduce public green space and amenity.  Indeed the need is to increase it. Having gardeners based in Hove Park has been good for maintenance of Hove parks and banishing them all to Stanmer Park is going to mean higher running costs for teams looking after Hove and Portslade (or not bothering to do it at all as budgets get further cut).  The park serves residents from a wide section of Hove and is much needed and valued.
The list of consultees for this application is absurd (and laughable in a black sort of way).  Addresses not in existence for 40 years have been lettered by the planning dept.  Plus to the Co-op and businesses there which were long gone, and closed forever mid-March.  It re-opened 3 days after the April 7th letters went out having been taken over by Waitrose.  Did the Co-op pass on any of the consultee letters that may have been forwarded to their head office?  Nothing to Coral’s Greyhound Stadium and nothing to Legal & General or other specific tenants of City Park (which has an employment protection Article 4 Direction on it to prevent it being converted to flats without a planning application under Eric Pickles’ little free-for-all measure to help developers).  No letters to any of the Nevill Road, Park View Road, Orchard Road, Avenue, Gardens residents either.  Nobody on the western side of the proposed school was formally consulted – only residents in Woodlands and Goldstone Crescent areas.  But the western area is likely to be preferred by arriving and departing parents for the shelter of buildings and trees in howling winter gales and rain or snow.  Parents won’t want to use Goldstone Crescent (a main road) or to walk across the exposed park area in bad weather or in winter afternoon darkness. So  the habitat friendly park will probably get floodlights put into it.  Heavily urbanising it.  This application seeks to turn a park into a built environment with a huge amount of activity added to it.
Plus!  Waitrose has a coffee shop.  Parents and children will colonise that coming and going.   Many of the supporters’ letters listed in the committee report are from long distances away – from people who will use that school.  It wont be just for local children.  This was made clear in the first application.  Maybe Waitrose would be cool with that.  Customers of course.  But maybe other customers would be put off.  The planning officers’ report to committee at 8.11 actually has the cheek to suggest parents can use Waitrose and Coral’s car parking area without having even had the courtesy of ever  formally notifying Waitrose or Coral of the application! 
The design of this new proposal is loud and cheap looking.  And it will be cheaply built too because Gove is in a spot of bother about his free schools and the money being taken from other areas to pay for them.  It looks rather like something from a nasty inner city council estate from the late 1950′s.  And there is no play space because half the site is steeply sloped and the cost of digging it out and engineering support for the Droveway above it would be colossal.  So they pretend it is a ‘habitat’ feature.  And they will all pile into Hove Park instead for playtime.  That serenely green and peaceful corner of Hove Park will be lost as that.  One wonders how the City Park office workers will feel about 630 kids squealing, playing and chattering  away in Spanish just below their windows as they try to work.  Schools are very noisy places.
I could go on. But I am too demoralised to do so.  I am sickened by this push to urbanise Hove Park by stuffing a huge, (unaccountable to BHCC) Central Government Free School into it, just as jamming that massive block of 71 flats beside the Park’s southern flank, in place of Park House, sickens.  For how much longer will badgers remain around Hove Park.  Or the red list birds we learned about in the Park House application.   Who will pay for the much increased maintenance requirement of that park  when 630 children and their parents and the 50 odd staff begin to use it?  Will they turn lawns to mud playing football on it (as a friend’s boys did in their garden years ago)?  Not Gove’s EFA I can assure you.  Oh no.  And yet BHCC  will have zero authority over anything that school does.  It should not be allowed to conduct any school activity within Hove Park.  They won’t be paying for it.  You, dear resident of Brighton & Hove, would pick up the tab for the consequences of their inevitable and intense park use and maintenance needs whilst parents from all over the surrounding counties bring their kids to this school.
Actually, there is one other small detail.  The report to committee baldly states that the school will harm the setting of the 5-times over Listed Engineerium, but says it’s OK to do that.  And there is no Conservation Area application for this proposal.  And there should be, in spite of the CA app being approved last time seeking demolition of existing buildings on site.  The depot sits within the Engineerium Conservation Area boundary and whatever is built (if anything) in that area, should need specific Conservation Area consent.
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How to make a quick buck out of the West Pier seafront site

If Coun Kitcat is looking for an attraction to lure visitors in that direction, I can suggest something:  every weekend, chuck £50,000 up in the air at the West Pier for people to grab – they’d turn up all right.  You could do this every single week for the decade, and it would still be £10 million cheaper than the proposed loan for the i360, which we’ll probably never get back.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      - Tony Davenport, letter in The Argus 18.3.14
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Exclusive: Coral, Waitrose & the question of who owns the car parking

Who owns the Hove Waitrose car parking, access and egress…..which of necessity also involves use of the entire Coral Greyhound Stadium frontage?  Anybody know…..definitively? Coral are telling Waitrose that they do.  Waitrose think they do (as the Co-op thought it did).  Right now, on behalf of both businesses, while ownership remains in dispute, Waitrose is managing all of it on their side and half-way down the Coral side to where trolley bays mark the limit of the Waitrose-managed area.
Waitrose opened on Thursday, 10th April; and by late afternoon, leaving Waitrose was nightmare, with back up preventing new arrivals entering from Neville Road.  It was also a race day for Corals and that is why it happened.  By 4pm the dogs were being brought to the stadium and by 6pm the racegoers were arriving too. Mayhem.
Why did Waitrose choose to open on a race day?  Certainly it provided them with information about the impact when both firms are using access/egress and car parking at the same time.  In spades.  On opening day they handled 5,700 customers.  On a their busy days they would expect to have 4,500 customers.  Wonder how that compares with the Co-op figures when they were there. 
A Waitrose employee confirms that they have 170 car parking spaces with 13 being disabled  (in two almost adjacent areas) – 50-70 more than at Western Road, surprisingly.  And regardless of who owns ALL the car parking, access and egress, Waitrose have an agreement that says all 170 spaces are for their use.  On Saturday, 19th April, all was sweetness and light for anyone arriving, parking, leaving.
Sadly the way in and way out are not confined to the Waitrose end of the site.  The Co-op was not as busy as Waitrose is; and perhaps the numbers leaving across the Coral site were not an issue then – but they are now.  On the visit to explore this, I was told that the branch want to look at the legalities of putting in a single two way entrance/exit and they have fed this back to Head office and the Waitrose Planning  Contractors to look into.  They may already be  discussing what is possible with BHCC planning officers and with Coral.  It was suggested they would like to look at whether traffic can go left and right onto the roundabout on exiting at the Coral end.  The two sites need really to be separated; but there is an ongoing dispute over who owns what. 
Coral are no doubt deeply concerned about how the popularity of Waitrose is going to impact on, and negatively affect, their race day needs.  I got the impression Coral are being a bit difficult with Waitrose.  Surprising, isn’t it, that there is a legal ownership issue at this stage?
How popular is Waitrose?  The traffic to just read about Waitrose on the saveHOVE website provides some indication!  When an article went up in November 2013 to announce they would be taking over the Co-op, opening in April 2014,  people jumped on it immediately and 784 views were logged across that month, for a total of 868 views to date.  The ‘Changeover details’ article has had 238 views to date.  ‘Opening day details’ 91 and the most recent, concerning the ‘Repositioning of Waitrose’ per se and review of the Western Road revamp and this new branch has, since going up only a few days ago, been viewed 78 times…..and all of this does not include visits to the home page where people scroll down and read whatever is there.  That is a lot of interest in Waitrose! 
Let’s hope Coral and Waitrose can separate their areas amicably; but organising a Waitrose-specific, single, two-way access/egress  point may not be easy to plan because it is so close to the intersection with Woodlands.  The current egress all the way down Neville Road to the Neville Avenue roundabout does disperse some of its customer traffic further south into Neville Road. 
Private vehicles apart, it is currently impossible to get a taxi from Waitrose (with shopping) that does not involve a long and expensive detour through the car park and down past Coral’s to Neville Avenue.  Not a problem if wishing to go south anyway…but an expensive detour if needing to go north!  Too, a pedestrian refuge/crossing would be useful somewhere along Neville Road for the safety of customers walking to and from Waitrose.
Perhaps, one day, the Coral Greyhound Stadium will be up for sale again (as it once was, before being taken off the market).  What is to be feared is a planning application from Coral seeking to redevelop the stadium site……
This is a good moment to say that a Planning Brief needs to be raised before it is too late.  A site-specific policy needs to be put in place to determine the most suitable use for it which local residents and businesses would have some consultative say in creating and which a developer would have to take into consideration.  Otherwise, as happened with Park House,  both BHCC and residents could end up chasing an inappropriate  application that has no specific policy attached to it, just a use class designation.  Getting rid of that is easy.  You market for a year and then when nobody takes it on, you can change it.  
Right now Coral and Waitrose are in a pickle over who owns what across the two sites, traffic in and out is not as it should be and no changes will happen until that legal conundrum is untangled. 
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Considering: A repositioned Waitrose, one revamp & the new Hove branch

Waitrose is repositioning itself to appeal to time-poor and domestically unskilled people who are about ready meals and food bling, whilst still being on top of food developments and trends having a serious moment (such as Lionel Poilane-style sourdough bread and vegan ice creams).  Free coffee has been introduced to cynically lure new people in. 

The magazine

Last year Waitrose shockingly dumped the expert and trusted Delia Smith from its house magazine in favour of a royal bridesmaid whose post-wedding, spin-off book was an embarrassment.   Waitrose dumbed the magazine down to a shallow level at the same time that it took on the socialite doing her entertainment food thing.   Is it having an identity crisis?  A mid-life crisis? 
The good news is, they realise the magazine dumb-down went too far and the April issue has real heft.  When this was remarked on, one of the head office suits at the Neville Road opening day admitted they had “recently given it a makeover”.  Recommend getting a copy before the month is out.  It is v. good.

The Western Road Branch revamp

The Western Road, Brighton, branch was unnervingly revamped at the end of 2013 leaving its longstanding and loyal customers shellshocked and, since then, now shunning it.  The revamp destroyed all that was good about the branch, replacing it with bad lighting, complicated stacks in shadow, floor-level product access and availability issues, treasured product lines de-listed, and a jumbled, unfathomable layout that means it is impossible to work out or remember where things are shelved.
Why was the free coffee point put close to fresh flowers, fruit and vegetables – where its overpowering smell increases as the day goes on so you cannot smell the flowers or the fruit and veg?  All is coffee, tension and very bad design in there now.  The over-large customer service counter is positioned by the front door where there is no longer a weather-shielding inner door which in winter makes for a very, very cold area there which extends into the flowers, coffee, fruit & veg and checkout areas. 
On opening day at Neville Road, a woman shocked the observing head office suits by telling them her Waitrose devotee friends don’t use Western Road any more; they drive to Burgess Hill or Worthing to use the Waitrose branches there.  Jaws dropped.
The whole tortured rethink of the last year or so is not confined to Western Road.  Other Sussex branches are changing too.  It wasn’t a broken offer before the tinkering; it was a winner.  Now it is full of cracks,  holes and awkwardness.
Treasured product lines, previously only available at Waitrose, and relied upon by longstanding customers were  unceremoniously dropped over the last year or so in favour of a series of new and novelty products which seemed almost manically to be sequentially trialled and  dumped.  Product insecurity and availability began to make shopping at Waitrose more than a bit challenging. 
The actual Waitrose USP has always been about respect and consideration for suppliers, customers and staff alike wih an emphatic policy of supporting British food producers; and its extensive cheese selection used to showcase several varieties of uncut Cheddars for those who take their cheese seriously.  Perhaps still do but less obviously so. Waitrose pioneered the stocking of environmentally friendlier organic fruits and vegetable two decades ago when no other supermarket cared or dared to keep them.   Now they have pruned back the range very hard indeed.  No more organic shiitake mushrooms, for instance.  A USP to be proud of has been shamelessly assaulted and kicked into touch.
They catered to the pernickety and adventurous who cook from scratch and like to raise their game.  This is changing.  They catered to the pernickety and knowledgeable who separate their washes into colour, whites, delicates and use speciality products for each.  Biologicals eat silk.  Now it is hard to find a handwashing product for it at Waitrose and that is about lowering standards.  Dumbing down.  They dropped gentle Dreft for machine-washing  colours.  Still have Filetti for washing baby things and delicate fabrics that don’t mind bleach.  I expect that will not escape the products cull as it is a bit special, with softening agents in it.  Years ago they trialled a Brazilian soap powder made with coconut oil.  It was stupendous.  And expensive and worth every penny and they dropped it.  Memorable. 
When saveHOVE supporters were asked to comment, all those who replied to the email echoed the above, one after the other – except for the minority of two respondents who see Waitrose as an expensive place for the rich to shop and disapprove of it.  The revamp is done and dusted and the place looks unfixable.  It is very sad.  It is upsetting to feel driven out, to then also give up the security, familiarity and continuity that longstanding customers and staff have had with one another that made shopping there an efficient pleasure….before.

The Neville Road takeover of the Co-op Superstore

The good news is people can go to Neville Road to get back some of why they were Waitrose customers in the first place. Even with those weirdly rammed and complicated product stacks for bottles and tins, it is great.  On the opening day visit, I did not need to ask where anything was.  Logical layout, and wide aisles.  An atmosphere that soothes, relaxes and puts you in a good mood.  That is good design doing its stuff. 
Will it suffer the same empty-shelf stock control problem that Western Road does?  Not on opening day it didn’t.  The problem is caused by the new stacks which have too many shallow shelves which carry too little of any one product.  People doing a storecupboard shop will take all six of what is there leaving a hole that the Western Road branch fails to fill.  Extra stock is not kept on the premises with which to do it. And the same fate may easily  befall the Neville Road branch because they are reliant on  constant shelf-filling by staff to keep up. 
When there are too many shelves of no depth, products get stranded at the inaccessible back down at the bottom when the high-viz ones on the outside edge get taken.  When this design problem was drawn to the attention of the visiting suits on opening day they said this:  and brace yourselves for it.  Staff all have knee pads to whip out to get down and pull things forward from the back (in their card trays).  So be on notice.  You are expected to find and call on a member of staff to get the product you cannot reach, using their knee pads to get down to reach deep into these often just inches high shelves.  How often would people bother?  They are confident that staff will keep shelves filled so this is not often needed. 
On a recent visit to Western Road, a woman put her free coffee into her large woven rush bag on the floor where it tipped over and leaked through the suck-hole.  She picked up the bag and scuttled down the aisle trailing coffee all the way, laughing uproariously with her friend.  She lied that she had told staff it was there and left the shop with just her coffee and sopping wet rush bag.  When a member of staff WAS summoned and asked about coffee spills, she made a telling remark.  “I spend more time cleaning it up than I do filling the shelves”.  You cannot have coffee in one hand, carry a basket or push a trolley with the other and shop properly without the risk of spilling coffee on the floor, on another customer, over the shelves.  Does Waitrose care? No.  The visiting suits proudly declared they had dispensed 52m cups of the free stuff.
Customers with cars:  a major, major problem at Neville Road
Something that will be off-putting for very many is vehicle access, parking and egress at Neville Road.  Those would-be customers driving south to get to it, who might have been expected to really welcome and pile into Neville Road, thereby helping to reduce traffic down to the Tesco shed or Western Road Waitrose, are unable to get in.  The amount of parking space is very tiny compared with Western Road.  Arriving vehicles trail back to the junction in Neville Road as they queue in the road to even enter the site, let alone get in to find a parking space.  On opening day I arrived about 1pm by taxi and all was open.  On leaving at 4pm: gridlock, and a need to quickly get shopping up to Neville Road in order to head off the taxi so it would not try to go in, get stuck in the queue and be forced into the site.  I would have been stuck on being eventually collected, with the meter running for a VERY long time, and unable to exit.  It is open from 7:30am until 9pm so going along either end of the day may make for easier access. There will be a lot of customers from nearby streets and from City Park behind it, which has 2,000 people working in its offices.
An issue of serious concern which Waitrose is hopefully aware of is the second Spanish bilingual primary school planning application for the Hove Park Scrub Nursery in The Droveway.  Waitrose deliveries will  come down the Droveway into the back area.  And one reason for withdrawal of the first application was the officer’s intention to refuse it.  As with the Waitrose takeover of the Co-op, traffic, parking, access and road safety issues were huge.  As Waitrose was a like for like replacement supermarket, there was no planning application issue on that score.  The huge increase in traffic being drawn to Waitrose does, however, make the school application a total no-no threatening existing users of that area around the Woodland Drive/Neville Road junction.
A word of advice:  from May, Neville Road will  be able to offer a delivery service.  Arrive by bus, bicycle or on foot, shop, and get it delivered.  Leave the car at home.  Hopefully it won’t suffer the same booking problems Western Road has.  Waitrose prioritises delivery for online customers.  Personal shoppers are relegated to what is left of the slots.  The charge is £5 if spending under £50 and £3 if spending over £50.
Quite where the free coffee is at Neville Road was not apparent on the first-day visit, so there were not too many juggling it or  sloshing it down the aisles.  There is a coffee shop just inside the entrance – which might extend the length of time people stay, both in the building and in the car park too, which will not help its parking problem.  This will hit the profitability of the branch.
What is the stock situation like?
Looking closely at product emphases,  one gets a little uneasy.  They put a poor selection of cut flowers on a small wall area between the outer and inner entrance doors.  They recognise this as a mistake which they will alter.  Pot plants had the opposite wall and an island area inside the shop.  Elsewhere, two tiny shelves for light bulbs (de-emphasised product) sit beside a wide, floor to ceiling section full of candles and room scent diffusers (bigged-up bling).  The northern-most corner houses the bakery area with islands of cupcakes and pastries prominently displayed.  That area is a bit eccentric actually.  Feels weird.  In the corner is a small, cramped, display of artisan breads – some horribly overbaked -  including roundels of Poilane-style sourdough.  The sliced, packaged quarters of these are stocked, as at Western Road, but nowhere near this display where you can buy the bread as you would cheese from a deli counter – cut and sold by weight. The heavily seeded sourdough wheat and rye is lovely (gut friendly and nutrient-rich). 
Also at the back on the other side is the extensive range of wines, beers and spirits.  And a stool height long table where one can sit with a platter of food and a glass of wine.  The proximity to passing trolleys and the stacks area is a little strange and this offer feels a bit contrived.  I sampled the (nice) vegetarian platter of mozzarella balls, marinated cherry tomatoes, artichokes and olives with hunks of sourdough bread, dipping oil/balsamic vinegar and the Romanian pinot noir (£7.50).  The wine was thin and sharp to the point of rough.  Like Beaujolais.  The experience of eating (with the trolley of shopping alongside) in that setting was unnatural.  Weird in fact.  Maybe if the table had been full of people….but it was not.  It does not really work and the two staff providing the platter and wine seemed baffled and uneasy too.
On opening day, bunched watercress was available, over where they sell fish, something that used to be in Western Road without fail and now never is.  The long aisle of frozen goods dedicates half of one side to a huge variety of frozen desserts, ice creams and frozen yoghurts.  From organic to vegan and allergy conscious,  from both familiar and obscure brands – it is a little emporium of calorific greed to. die. for.  But don’t get comfortable as a load of it is almost certain to be discontinued just as you get used to seeing it there and trusting it to stay.  Because that is where Waitrose is coming from right now. Rely only on change from them. 
The Ethical USP
One thing not changing is its ethical employment stance.  It is not a shareholding multinational.  It is owned by John Lewis Partnership profit-sharing partners who are involved in how the business is run.  That is special.  Neville Road is run by a team of 230 partners, including former Co-op employees and 150 new members of staff.  The branch manager is Nick Mort.  
For whatever reason, Waitrose is in a wobble moment and questioning who or what it should be.  It should also be careful of alienating its core, longstanding customer base whose loyalty is beginning to waver.
The actual Waitrose USP has always been about appreciation and respect for food producers, customers and staff, an emphatic support for British suppliers (the meat especially, apparently), supply of ingredients for those who are old-fashioned cook-from-scratch pernickety or adventurous, the best and widest selection of cheeses and breads and yes, gourmet and speciality products. Check out the wall of ice creams at Neville Road! – See more at: http://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2014/04/15/what-do-hove-shoppers-make-of-their-new-waitrose/28827/comment-page-1#comment-97610

The actual Waitrose USP has always been about appreciation and respect for food producers, customers and staff, an emphatic support for British suppliers (the meat especially, apparently), supply of ingredients for those who are old-fashioned cook-from-scratch pernickety or adventurous, the best and widest selection of cheeses and breads and yes, gourmet and speciality products. Check out the wall of ice creams at Neville Road!

Until recently it stocked an amazing range of specialist cleaning products for those who know how to look after their natural fibre clothing and like things to last and still look good. Biological, for instance, eats silk and bleach does silk no favours. Is that customer base dwindling? A whole swathe of them dumped. The old Waitrose would have educated the customers into buying it. Is it snobbery to have domestic skills and knowledge and wish to buy products that cater to using it? It’s just practical and sensible. Waitrose knows younger people can’t be bothered and so its moving on now, repositioning itself to serve them more than its traditional customer. Turning its back on the traditional customer base it seems to some.

Its ethical employment practices are something to be proud of and most employees are profit-sharing partners. That at least is not changing. It pioneered stocking organic fruit and vegetables and stuck with it even when nobody was prepared to pay the extra for it two decades ago. Sadly it has now dumped much of its fresh organic range.

- See more at: http://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2014/04/15/what-do-hove-shoppers-make-of-their-new-waitrose/28827/comment-page-1#comment-97610

The actual Waitrose USP has always been about appreciation and respect for food producers, customers and staff, an emphatic support for British suppliers (the meat especially, apparently), supply of ingredients for those who are old-fashioned cook-from-scratch pernickety or adventurous, the best and widest selection of cheeses and breads and yes, gourmet and speciality products. Check out the wall of ice creams at Neville Road!

Until recently it stocked an amazing range of specialist cleaning products for those who know how to look after their natural fibre clothing and like things to last and still look good. Biological, for instance, eats silk and bleach does silk no favours. Is that customer base dwindling? A whole swathe of them dumped. The old Waitrose would have educated the customers into buying it. Is it snobbery to have domestic skills and knowledge and wish to buy products that cater to using it? It’s just practical and sensible. Waitrose knows younger people can’t be bothered and so its moving on now, repositioning itself to serve them more than its traditional customer. Turning its back on the traditional customer base it seems to some.

Its ethical employment practices are something to be proud of and most employees are profit-sharing partners. That at least is not changing. It pioneered stocking organic fruit and vegetables and stuck with it even when nobody was prepared to pay the extra for it two decades ago. Sadly it has now dumped much of its fresh organic range.

- See more at: http://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2014/04/15/what-do-hove-shoppers-make-of-their-new-waitrose/28827/comment-page-1#comment-9761

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