A long-running war between residents and Asda in Bedminster over unauthorised night-time deliveries has descended into abuse, threats, arrests and a criminal conviction, it can be revealed.
Neighbours say the supermarket has breached a planning condition banning lorries from the East Street store’s yard between 10pm and 6am an estimated 2,500 times stretching back at least eight years, causing them sleepless nights, stress and misery.
But the retail giant has issued an astonishing statement accusing locals of a “campaign of abuse” against its staff, including “physical and verbal assault, trespassing, threats through social media and a constant bombardment of emails and calls”.
Avon and Somerset Police has confirmed a man was convicted at Bristol magistrates’ court in April last year for going into the delivery yard on three occasions in December 2020 and January 2021 and being abusive to employees or delivery drivers.
He was given a 12-month conditional discharge after pleading guilty to criminal damage, using threatening words/behaviour and trespass with intent to do unlawful damage.
Residents say the overwhelming majority of them act perfectly reasonably and insist Asda is entirely to blame for the ill-feeling because of its repeated breaches of the planning condition.
It comes as watchdogs have now upheld a complaint by one householder who lives behind the supermarket, Tony Gwyther, against Bristol City Council for not doing enough to enforce the rules.
Mr Gwyther, of St Paul’s Road, welcomed the ruling by the Local Government Ombudsman which decided the authority had caused injustice by failing to make clear its plan to tackle the issue and delaying issuing an enforcement notice.
The council has apologised to the 52-year-old, who complained that it failed to take action and took too long to investigate, and says officers will be visiting the shop to assess other alleged breaches.
An Asda spokesperson said: “There has been a campaign of abuse towards colleagues at this store from some residents, including physical and verbal assault, trespassing, threats through social media and a constant bombardment of emails and calls to colleagues both at the store and head office.
“Unfortunately some of these incidents have led to arrests being made and one resident has pleaded guilty to multiple charges.”
The ombudsman report, which refers to Mr Gwyther as Mr B and uses the word “fault” to describe service failure or maladministration, said: “There was fault by the council causing injustice.
“It has not communicated a clear decision-making process or plan to Mr B so that he knows what action he might expect the council to take to resolve this.
“Also, it took too long to serve a breach of condition notice and to decide whether to take further action. “This caused Mr B injustice and the council has agreed to take action to remedy this.”
Mr Gwyther told the ombudsman he had “suffered distress and been unable to sleep properly for a number of years because of noise caused by the late-night deliveries to the store and operations there”.
The report said: “The council registered an enforcement case in December 2020. “It said that it agreed there had been breaches of the condition over recent years and the supermarket accepted this.”
The report said the council updated Mr Gwyther and told him the Government had instructed local authorities not to take planning enforcement on retail delivery times because of the demands of Covid-19.
“In July 2021, the Government issued a further statement that said that councils should not take enforcement action that would unnecessarily restrict delivery of food and essentials, but that it may be necessary to take action where neighbours are disturbed by out of hours deliveries,” the ombudsman said.
“From September 2021, Mr B continued to send the council further reports of lorries delivering outside the allowed hours. “The police also contacted the council to say it had received several complaints.
“The council wrote to the supermarket on nine occasions between September and November 2021. “It served a breach of condition notice on November 24.
“This said that the supermarket must stop breaching the condition by December 22, 2021.
“The council took from July to November to serve the notice. “I appreciate that it was discussing the issues with the supermarket, but given the history of the site, my current view is that this was too long.
“I understand the supermarket has not resubmitted an application to alter the planning condition and the council has not decided whether to take further enforcement action.
“In view of this, it is also fault that the council has not given Mr B a clear plan as to how it might resolve the issue. “The time it took to issue a notice and the lack of clear communication about what action it might take has caused Mr B uncertainty and frustration.”
The ombudsman ordered the council to apologise to Mr Gwyther and formulate a plan to resolve the enforcement issue.
Mr Gwyther told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “This is the worst case of planning condition breaches in the history of Bristol.”
He said that based on a conversative estimate of one breach daily since the condition was imposed, Asda had broken it about 2,500 times, but that the actual figure could be much higher because there were usually several lorries making deliveries out of permitted hours.
“We are shattered and are in bits,” Mr Gwyther said. “They are still breaching the condition and other ones, it feels like they’re not willing to adjust.
“We are trying to correct the wrong so we can have the standard of life we expect. “As a community we have asked the council to back us up but it feels like they are taking Asda’s side.
“We’ve had so many sleepless nights and so much stress and it has seriously affected our lives and livelihoods.
“I’ve been falsely accused of antisocial behaviours and there have been attempts to discredit my name. “We just need the rules to be followed and for our lives to be put back together.
“We have been treated appallingly – it’s disgusting and horrific. “I’ve had neighbours crying on the phone, unable to get to sleep.
“Our community is suffering and no one seems to be grasping that.”
An Asda spokesperson said the store was granted temporary permission throughout the pandemic to receive deliveries 24/7 to help feed the nation and that its weekly grocery deliveries soared from 400,000 to more than 850,000 as online orders sky-rocketed.
They said that without extra deliveries through the night, it could not have served many customers, including those in greatest need.
“To help support the local community in Bedminster and manage an increase in online orders from vulnerable customers shielding during the pandemic, the delivery schedule at the store was temporarily changed,” the spokesperson added.
“These changes were in line with government guidance to ensure supermarkets could restock and continue to serve customers during the pandemic.
“The store’s deliveries have now returned to those in line with permitted hours.” A city council spokesperson said “The council followed direction given by government during the Covid-19 pandemic not to enforce planning conditions on times for deliveries to retail stores to ensure shelves remain stocked when supply chains were under pressure.
“Whilst the case continued to be investigated throughout the period reviewed by the ombudsman, we accept that our progress and the actions being taken should have been better communicated to the complainant who we have sent a formal apology to.
“Enforcement officers have recently written again to the retail store and also residents about the situation and officers will be visiting the site to assess other alleged breaches.
“Our investigation considers the impact of deliveries on residents and the operating conditions currently in place.”