Last night Rushcliffe Borough Council approved in principle Sainsbury’s planning application for their new store on Wilford Lane. To be honest there was little doubt that it would be approved – sadly that is the way of things. However, will it actually benefit anyone other than Sainsbury’s?
I am not a fan of the supermarkets, I believe they have a lot to answer for – and have certainly helped our high streets to the sad state that they are now in. My home town of Malmesbury is currently a few months behind West Bridgford in this process – I can only hope that it doesn’t go the same way.
Sainsbury’s have stated that they believe the store will give more choice to West Bridgford shoppers (which it will), but it must have a negative effect on the town centre shops, so how can it be good for the town? Their official line?;
Sainsbury’s predicts the supermarket will benefit the economy and “complement” the smaller shops 1.25 miles (2km) away in the centre of West Bridgford.
West Bridgford is a very healthy suburb from a retailing point of view at the moment. Rents are strong and vacancies are minimal. Morrisons and Asda cover the town on either side and M&S simply food in the centre works well. Sainsbury’s just doesn’t sit well in this – especially when the Castle Marina store is less than 2 miles away as the crow flies!
So no, I don’t agree with the decision and hope that the Secretary of State kicks it out – sadly I don’t hold out much hope of this though!
I have blogged previously about the fight currently going in my home town of Malmesbury in Wiltshire over the siting of a supermarket, the “combatants” being Waitrose and Sainsbury’s. I am in the “support the best of a bad case” camp – in an ideal world the town doesn’t need a supermarket – but the Waitrose one makes most sense to me, and would in my view have least effect on the town – partly due to its location and partly due to the arguably better ethics of the operator.
So I am appalled to see in the press over the last few days that English Heritage have in effect just come out in support of the Sainsbury’s deal! Obviously they haven’t said it in so many words – but they have made the following statement about the siting of the Waitrose unit;
“The role of the site as a positive contributor to the setting of the town will be lost as the area will effectively become part of the town rather than part of its landscape, resulting in an undesirable extension of its historic and tightly knit development pattern beyond the river boundary. “In this respect the proposals will cause substantial harm to the character and appearance of the conservation area, the immediate settings of Avon Mills and St John’s Bridge, and in harming the strategic setting of the town as a whole, to that of the Abbey. “
Now I lived in Malmesbury from the age of 8 and can honestly say that the site has no view of the Abbey, yes it adds to the towns area, but within the relief road (or ring road if you prefer). Surely that is preferable to adding a huge development on the far edge of the town outside the road system? Also the site is behind Avon Mills, so has no view of the Abbey or higher town, or can be seen from the town itself.
I understand why English Heritage are saying this – but in my opinion they are wrong!
I strongly believe that Sainsbury’s would kill the town centre, I do not believe their ‘spin’ about complementing the town. They are in business to make money, not help in a philanthropical way to develop a town centre and cherish it!
Come on Malmesbury, wake up and realise what is about to happen! For the Nimby’s there perhaps the realisation that it will make the town less attractive and therefore affect house prices downwards might help you make a decision? What ever happens the town is going to change for ever, but let’s try to make it as minimal and least damaging as we can?
Despite all the assurances that Sainsbury’s had made about how they would compliment the towns current retail offering I was not convinced (I just don’t believe or trust them). And it appears now that I am likely to be proved correct if comments allegedly (according to the Telegraph) due to be made by Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King prove correct.
He is expected to say this week that the high street should be shrunk! And also to describe them as a poor second to out-of-town centres and claim that people did not have time to potter between the butcher the baker and the grocer – probably because they aren’t there anymore Mr King – and who is responsible for that?
Just to rub salt into the wound he is also expected to deny that supermarkets were to blame for the decline of high streets and suggest that “Where high streets are in trouble it is usually because they are not providing what the local population wants.”
Well done Mr King – that statement is up there with ‘the cheque is in the post’ and other similar comments!
So perhaps now the people in favour of the application by Sainsbury’s in Malmesbury will see exactly what the rhetoric from Sainsbury’s is – just that – enough to get the application through , and then change their tune!
I accept I don’t live there anymore, but I do feel responsible for the town I grew up in and don’t want to see it go the way of so many other. Let’s hope that Mr Kings comments can be classed as up there with Gerald Ratners comments in 1991 – that would have a ‘positive’ effect in helping Malmesbury escape the Sainsbury’s effect!
UPDATE – It appears that the ‘leaked speech’ was either wrong or pulled as the final speech did not cover these points at all. Pulled due to the bad press or just never there – who knows?
So a few weeks on from Mary Portas’s report and we have the first signs of something positive potentially coming from it. As part of her review, Ms Portas recommended that town centres be managed through new “town teams” who would be responsible for developing businesses in the area.
Now the government is looking for 12 ‘run down’ High Streets in England to share £1m to help them regenerate. The competition introduces the idea of ‘town teams’, made up of landlords, shopkeepers, residents, and the local authority and is asking them to come up with a vision for their High Street – and a share in the cash.
Areas will bid for support from a dedicated team and Ms Portas herself, but quite how in this market they will decide which High Streets are most deserving I don’t know. As expected the government have described this as a ‘golden ticket’ for town centres, but I fail to see how it will make a significant difference. One million spread between 12 centres is frankly nothing.
The Local Government Association are certainly not impressed and any scheme will have to be run at least in part with their cooperation. So unless the government give local authorities some additional powers (and money) it does appear to be rather an empty gesture.
Councils (and voters) won’t want to see short-term schemes – they want to see some substantial long term changes to their town centres to help them regenerate. Even if as the government is suggesting, this is being Introduced as a pilot to address specific local issues and to kick start other towns into action it will still need funding – but from where?
Perhaps it’s time to ‘hit the supermarkets’ for some funding to undo the damage they have caused of the last 25 years?
It is interesting to note that even in these difficult times nearly all of the Woolworth stores that fell empty with the collapse of the retailer at the start of the current financial problems are now nearly all re-occupied.
This does give some hope for our town centres. The Portas report has highlighted the plight of our nations town centres and has come up with some interesting (and some blindingly obvious) suggestions. It remains to be seen which recommendations the Government take up from the report, sadly they will probably be the cheapest to carry out and not necessarily the best ones! But at least it is a move in the right direction – although I am a strong believer in the fact that it is the supermarkets who have killed our town centres more than any other thing – more on that next week.
However, the old adage, “location, location, location” is as true today as it has ever been, and it is good to see that most of the ‘woollies’ which were always well positioned in most town centres have found new tenants. Yes, most will be pound shops or similar (no one else will take these large units) but at least it keeps some activity in the good areas of the towns.
As we hear about the problems of some of our larger retailers over the last few weeks (Peacocks etc) spare a thought for the small independent shop – it is time to support the small local trader more than ever, this is the only thing that will enable our suburban and small town centres to survive – you have been warned!