When local developer Toby Atkinson spied a brownfield site from the top of a double-decker bus on London’s Old Kent Road, he thought it would be a great location for a supermarket.
Little did he know, however, that the former site of sixties pop group Manfred Mann’s recording studios would prove to be just like one of their hits - a lot of Hubble Bubble Toil & Trouble.
The following years saw an inquiry by Southwark Council and a referral to the Secretary of State.
Then, just as the green light was about to be given, the site was invaded by eco-warriors. However, six years and £30m later, Asda is finally on the verge of opening the doors of its first store on the Monopoly board.
The store is located right on the main A2 road to Kent, which is one of London’s busiest thoroughfares. And Asda is convinced the store, which opens on December 13, will be successful. During the public inquiry, the inspector commented on the unprecedented amount of support the proposals received from local people.
Unlike a number of recent regeneration schemes, whereby Asda is developing housing on top of stores to secure planning approval, the Old Kent Road store is located on one level.
Both the council and Secretary of State felt that housing would be inappropriate in this location.
The store is surrounded by housing and is next to a commercial park. Asda’s retailing neighbours include McDonald’s and B&Q.
The 80,000 sq ft unit, which has 47,000 sq ft of selling space, is shoehorned into the site. It has two entrances to satisfy the differing needs of the urban population.
One is located at the back of the store, by the car park, for those who want to do a major shop.
However, a separate entrance at the front comes in by a new coffee shop area and is more appropriate for the many customers that are likely to be basket shoppers.
The coffee shop, complete with brown leather chairs, will offer a limited range, such as coffee, sandwiches and cakes. Asda believes people will drop in for a coffee and is looking to roll out the concept if it proves successful. Its main competitor, a Tesco down the road, has recently closed its cafeteria.
The store contains a sizeable George area that has its own counter, as in a department store. Customers walk past a photo-processing area into George if they come in by the front entrance.
At the other entrance, shoppers will be greeted by fresh product, including a fresh pizza counter and scratch bakery.
There are three Tesco stores within a two-mile radius, while Sainsbury has a store at New Cross at the east section of Old Kent Road and Morrisons has converted a Safeway in Walworth Road.
But this did not stop people flocking to work at the new Asda. According to Asda, it had to stop accepting job applications after being inundated by 3,000 for the 250 full-time jobs.
The store is Asda’s 21st within the M25. This compares with Sainsbury’s 200 stores and Tesco’s 85 excluding convenience stores.
Asda property director Stephen Clark says the company is keen to increase its presence in the capital. “We can’t get the stores but we want more,” he says.
“But we have already committed £115m in the next three years to development within the M25.”
One reason he is so keen to develop in London is that a Mori poll shows the cost of living ranks highly as a concern for Londoners, above other issues such as crime.
Certainly one potential customer, pensioner Doll Sullivan who lives in Waterloo, says that she has been looking forward to the opening and is already planning a trip in the first week.
“I will be checking out the prices and comparing them to Tesco,” she tells The Grocer.