Local news for Wapping E1W and Tower Hamlets

New Waitrose e-commerce home delivery service hub at St Thomas More Square

By on July 5, 2014 in Planning

It seems that Waitrose has plans to create a new e-commerce home delivery service at St Thomas More Square.

Details are still a little murky but the e-commerce delivery service may be a separate business operation to the existing St Katharine’s Dock branch of Waitrose although it will piggy back on the existing Waitrose facility.

Waitrose HGV

Waitrose HGV

The Wapping Mole has been very busy digging around lately but even so he likes to keep his ear to the ground. If not under it. And Moley has not heard of any public announcements from Waitrose like “Waitrose e-commerce home delivery service at St Thomas More Square”. Or did Moley just miss this? Like he missed the plan for a new vehicle entrance to the London Dock development in Vaughan Way?

Sensory faculties of Wapping Mole questioned

Whatever the reality of Moley’s faculties here’s what seems to be going on.

In a most excellent blog post (see below) Pootling Paul explained that there is a planning application by Waitrose to extend the delivery hours at St Thomas More Square (7am to 11pm Mondays to Saturdays and 6:30 to 11pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays) and a separate planning application is asking to remove three parking bays in the Waitrose underground car park and replace them with cold stores for its home delivery service.

Another document worth reading is this covering letter to the application from Firstplan [External link] a company that provides specialist advice to companies such as Waitrose on planning issues.

Here is an extract from the letter, emphasis mine.

“There are no conditions or restrictions on the trading hours of the store and it could therefore trade 24 hours a day without recourse to the planning system. It is our view, that allowing home deliveries to take place inline with existing Monday to Saturday servicing hours will reduce the number of customers which would otherwise need to visit the store in person. This will minimise the demand for late night store openings and reduce the quantum of activity and vehicular traffic generated from, and associated with, the store being open to the public. 

Indeed, customer vehicle movements significantly exceed that arising from a relatively small number of E-Commerce vans carrying out deliveries from the enclosed service yard. Furthermore, an extended delivery window will allow deliveries to be spaced out throughout the day, thereby reducing the need for deliveries during peak times, when the highway networks can be congested, and eliminating the possibility of delivery vehicles waiting on the highway. It is reasonable to argue therefore that longer store opening hours would be of greater impact on residential amenity than the proposed relaxation of the delivery hours.

In light of the above, it is our view that the proposed extension to the existing delivery hours (to allow for deliveries to take place from 6:30am until 11:00pm on Saturdays and Bank holidays) will not have an adverse impact on the amenity of surrounding properties, or on the surrounding highway network. As such, the proposals are in accordance with Policies DM10, SP09 and SP10 of the adopted development plan.”

Surrounding highway network being Vaughan Way. Where London Dock want to add another 100 vehicle movements a day.

I doubt if anyone would object to a company like Waitrose expanding its e-commerce home delivery service. Home delivery is how people like to shop nowadays so that means that more e-commerce home delivery hubs will be needed at various locations. And the new service should also create more jobs in Wapping and that is always good news.

Waitrose St. Katharine’s Dock struggling to survive?

I am a little confused about one particular aspect of this planning language. Wapping is not that big and I don’t think Waitrose needs to expand its operation just for us. This new e-commerce hub must have a wider service area than E1W. Oddly the wording in some of the documents seems to link the very survival of Waitrose St. Katherine’s Dock to the e-commerce service (see Paul’s post below for a very good take on this). Remember that next time you are in a queue at Waitrose SKD. Seems it is struggling to survive. Probably competition from all the other supermarkets in Wap…. Oh. There aren’t any!

So the key questions are what is the service area for the E-Commerce home delivery service? How many extra vehicle movements will there be a day? And of what type will these vehicle movements be?

These details don’t seem to be on any of the documents we have seen to date, so on Friday I sent a nice email to a nice man at Waitrose corporate PR who deals with property. No reply as yet, will publish when I get it. Here are the questions I asked:

  1. Nature of E-Commerce home delivery service at Waitrose St Katharine Docks, especially why you thought SKD was the best place for it?
  2. Service radius
  3. Total vehicle movements per day
  4. Breakdown of vehicle movements by type, e.g. van or HGV
  5. Total new job opportunities created by the new E-Commerce home delivery service

Let’s see what the answers are.

In the meantime do read on….

Below is a cross post of an original article by Pootling Paul [External link] which analyses the planning changes needed for the new Waitrose E-Commerce home delivery service that is to be based at St Thomas More Square. Paul has the uncanny ability to not only decode the most obtuse planning language but also make it interesting. Impressive stuff.

Thanks also to the mysterious ninja-like Mummy Penguin for bringing this issue to the attention of Love Wapping.

Waitrose to extend delivery hours

A quick post on an application by Waitrose to extend its delivery hours (that is the times that deliveries can be made to or from the store). Ostensibly this is explained in relation to developing its home delivery service, but may have a more significant impact. In a separate application, Waitrose is planning on removing three parking bays (in its underground car park) to build cold stores to facilitate its home delivery service, from where it will operate. So, whilst the delivery vehicles are being secreted underground and shouldn’t prove any additional nuisance to locals there may be a twist in the story.

Some background

Back when the store was built in 1991, the planning condition was that:

“The loading and unloading of goods vehicles to service the premises shall only be carried out from within the curtilage of the site between the hours of 07.00 and 19.00 Mondays to Saturdays and at no other times including any Sunday or Public Holidays.”

In 1999 an application was made for:

“extension to permitted servicing hours to include 7am – 11pm from Mondays to Saturdays and 10am – 4 pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays.”

Waitrose believes however that through some legal loophole around various planning matters that there is no legal restriction, but as good neighbours are requesting a formalised extended set of hours. So far so commendable.

The proposed change

The proposal put forward is to amend the condition as follows:

“The loading and unloading of goods vehicles to service the premises shall only be carried out from within the curtilage of the site between the hours of 7am and 11pm Mondays to Saturdays and between the hours of 6:30am and 11pm on Sundays or Public Holidays.”

The impact

As I’ve noted, this whole application is framed on the basis of the establishment of a home delivery service and that this reduces the number of cars on the road driving to the supermarket. Furthermore, you won’t be able to hear anything as the car park is underground. That’s fine, a few vans driving around shouldn’t make much difference, but, no information is given on what geographic area the home delivery service will be covering. If it’s just Wapping, it’s not going to be an issue, but given that the next nearest sizeable Waitrose supermarkets are Canary Wharf and Stratford Westfield it suggests there may be a fleet of vans. This is speculation, but it would be good to get an indication of the volume of deliveries at different times of day.

What is concerning is that there are some inconsistencies in the language in the application. In the proposed change, that I’ve quoted above it is drafted as the loading and unloading of goods vehicles – note the loading, which would be sending vans out. But in the preceding paragraph the request is described as allowing deliveries to the store.

This application seeks permission for the variation of condition 3 attached to T/90/199 to allow deliveries to the store between 7am to 11pm Mondays to Saturdays and 6:30 to 11pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays to confirm the planning position.

Clearly, Waitrose want to make e-commerce deliveries, but I wonder if they really want the flexibility of having their HGVs delivering products to the store earlier and later. I personally think that deliveries at 6.30am and at 11pm on Sundays is potentially disruptive to the nearby properties. However, it may just be a mistake. It would make far more sense to have separately regulated times for the main loading bay on Vaughan Way and the use of the car park. The fact it is only Sundays and Bank Holidays that they wish to extend hours undermines to some extent the arguments about reducing loads on the roads during peak hours (there is no reference to people shifting online deliveries to Sundays rather than weekdays).

The application won’t affect me, I neither live nearby, nor do I shop in Waitrose that frequently and nor do I use its delivery service and I won’t be commenting on it.

Planning Guff

This is a prime example of planning guff – the conflation of volume for value. Basically, repeating the same argument in different ways until the read keels over in a catatonic state. No sentence can be written without an executive summary, a recap, the actual point they want to make and a conclusion and the more forceful a point can be made, the better.

For example if you read this application you might think that  our local branch of Waitrose is on the verge of closing down:

To ensure the long term vitality and viability of the centre, it is essential to ensure flexibility with regard to the store’s retail offer and servicing window to enable it to meet the shopping needs of the modern customer.

And again:

Food retailing is a competitive and dynamic industry and the E-Commerce home delivery service represents an important part of Waitrose’s customer offer, which will play a vital role in the ongoing viability and success of the store.

What this of course fails to consider is whether Waitrose’s E-Commerce business actually needs to be based in that location. I’m sure a delivery depot in Beckton would potentially offer scale benefits, but that’s by-the-by. Without allowing home delivery, the supermarket might not be viable, is the message.

But a rational person only needs to stand in the queue at Waitrose to know that this isn’t the case. Indeed, factually I know it not to be the case because in the London Dock Town Centre Viability documents, our local branch of Waitrose is relatively successful and generates revenues some “£3.7m (20%) over company average”.

So having said that the store needs to be flexible it then makes the point that by offering home delivery it will face less demand to be flexible:

This will minimise the demand for late night store openings and reduce the quantum of activity and vehicular traffic generated from, and associated with, the store being open to the public.

For the vast majority of people, the benefit of late night store opening is for those times when you’ve run out of nappies, painkillers or bog-roll or you’ve been working late, you aren’t going to call in a delivery at 11pm at the moment you open the bathroom cabinet.

I’d actually like Waitrose to have extended opening hours -it’s not a hot bed of anti-social behaviour as far as I’m aware and having a commercial premises open at night would make Thomas More Square more appealing to walk through to Quay 430 or Kennet Street from Tower Hill and would also tie in with the proposed units on the northern side of the development. These are just meaningless words to cobble every permutation and combination of benefits that they think planners want to hear.

After banging on about the parlous financial state of the store the move onto the traffic benefits:

Furthermore, an extended delivery window will allow deliveries to be spaced out throughout the day, thereby reducing the need for deliveries during peak times, when the highway networks can be congested, and eliminating the possibility of delivery vehicles waiting on the highway. It is reasonable to argue therefore that longer store opening hours would be of greater impact on residential amenity than the proposed relaxation of the delivery hours.

Based on this argument, Sunday and bank holiday deliveries have less need to be at 6.30 am then weekday deliveries at 7am when the roads might be busy! However, the application doesn’t address this discrepancy. Furthermore, there is no prospect of longer store opening on Sundays (which is the only day they want to extend delivery hours), they are set in law!

I have no strong feelings about the application, but really would like to read planning applications that make their point and get on with it.


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