Saturday, August 13, 2011

more supermarket stuff...

As some of you will be aware, I’ve previously expressed my strong concerns about the big-six supermarkets and the implications for our High Streets (frankly, it may already be too late). Yesterday, lovely friend Lal made reference to this wickedly amusing blog post on the subject following this week’s riots.
Back in May (to his credit?), Cameron commissioned a review into the future of the high street (led by Mary Porta, broadcaster and retail guru). It’s due to report back in October.
In the meantime, Labour has launched a stinging attack on Tesco – calling it an “almighty conglomerate” (no doubt, Asda and Sainsbury’s will support Labour’s stand – just because it’s anti-Tesco!).
Last weekend’s Guardian magazine contained a powerful (and demoralising) article by John Harris. Examples from Stokes Croft (inevitably!), Sheringham, Frome, and Dorridge are cited in demonstrating the power (and effectiveness) of the supermarkets in gaining planning approval – and how they are constantly able to “win” consents due to the lack of funds available for Local Authorities to fight planning appeals (when compared with the supermarkets’ treasure chests) and the supermarkets’ ready ability to agree Section 106 conditions to enable surgeries, libraries and the like to be funded (or land provided)…. patronising blood money to all intents and purposes. The all-too-familiar stories of how Councils end up capitulating (eventually) to pressure by the supermarket fraternity are worrying (as we well know with our recently-approved, massive Sainsbury’s in Bedminster).
Frighteningly, one planning consent doesn’t mean that the other supermarkets simply go away. Oh no. This situation, as outlined in Harris’s article, is pretty typical, I suspect (note: Eorica Mildmay is an anti-supermarket campaigner from Norfolk): “Back in Sheringham, I mention the campaign in Frome, but Mildmay is not in the mood to make me feel better. ‘These people will not take no for an answer,’ she says. Her face darkens. ‘We have it on good authority that since Tesco won, there's a possibility of Asda and Waitrose coming to Holt. There might be a Lidl in Cromer. People who read the trade magazines were watching us. The worry is that now we've got zapped, it'll become a free-for-all. And heaven help us."
Just a look at the following figures will surely convince you that “things just aren’t right” when it comes to supermarkets. Again, from Harris’s article:
There are just over 8,000 supermarkets in the UK, and they account for 97% of total grocery sales. Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons take 76% of that market. Their share of non-food retailing currently stands at 14%, a figure up by 75% since 2003. In the two years up to November 2010, planning permission was granted to 480 stores run by the Big Four, which works out at one supermarket every other day. Since 2008, they have accounted for 87% of the retail floor space given planning permission. In May, Channel 4 News reported that by 2014 retail space operated by the Big Four was set to increase by 20%: as its report put it, ‘an expansion drive on a scale never seen before’….
“Once planning permission has been granted and another supermarket goes up, the inevitable happens: local traders suffer, and many go out of business – whether the supermarket is out of town or, in line with modern trends, closer to the centre. I have a stack of personal testimony that makes this point, but the words I usually reach for are those of Gerard Jones, the owner of a window blinds and dry-cleaning business in Ystrad Mynach, south Wales, who has watched as Tesco has done its worst on a site 400 yards from his town centre. ‘Tesco have muscled in and destroyed our community as we know it,’ he told a local planning hearing in late 2010. ‘Every venture we have tried in the town centre has been shanghaied by this organisation. Footfall has fallen and nobody can truthfully say Tesco has brought shoppers into the town centre. It has taken 100 years to build our community. It doesn't take long to throw that all away.’

The Tory Government, who clearly sees any criticism of its retail policies as a threat to “healthy competition”, has responded with: "Town centre planning policy is not pro- or anti-supermarkets. Planning cannot seek to restrict lawful competition between retailers; in fact, planning policy is blind to whether the operator of a retail proposal is a supermarket or an independent."

Well, actually, I think there's a very strong case to say it SHOULD!

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