Why are we so against change?

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It seems that whatever we try to do in this country to ‘move forward’ we always come up against people who are ‘anti’. At the larger end of the scale it might be HS2 or wind farms off the coast, at the local level it could be new development – and this is the drive behind this blog….

Screen-Shot-2014-05-31-at-19.06.44-1024x457I live in West Bridgford, it is a very pleasant suburb of Nottingham and has been voted (as part of Rushcliffe) as one of the more desirable places to live in the UK – all good news so far. It also has a very busy and successful retail area based around Central Avenue. This area has seen significant changes in the last few years, a number of restaurants and bars have opened and it is now somewhere that attracts out of area dinners and drinkers. This is positive in my view as it brings money into the town.

There is however an element of the local (and not so local?) population who are quite vocal about not wanting change, this manifested itself most vocally a few years ago when M&S were looking to open in the town. Much was said against them, but they got planning and are now a well used and dare I say it popular addition (even from those anti initially?) to the town.

Moving forward a few years to today we have the issue of the two new retail units behind the Halifax on Central Avenue – a piece of almost invisible land which added nothing to the area, but was next to the croquet green (as the area of grass between Central Avenue and the car-park is known). The planning application for this has just been approved (quite rightly in my view). But it has caused huge bad feeling and comment – particularly from those who love the farmers market that uses the croquet lawn a couple of times a month.

All I would say to those opposed to the development is think long term, the market could move on and is in real terms a minor addition to the life of the town centre. Traders who take a formal lease on a shop unit are committing long term to the town and have a vested interest in its success. Yes, we potentially have an issue over tenant mix in the town (as most towns do) with too many charity shops and numerous coffee shops and the like. But who causes the demand for these operators? The market as a whole, in effect those who are against the development in the first place!

Perhaps it is time for the country as a whole to have a good hard look at itself and accept that we cause the changes in the market – so we can’t (and shouldn’t) complain when development occurs, especially when it is small and local as in the case of this one. Time to deal with our ‘not in my back yard’ issues……

Don’t meddle with planning!

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I have blogged previously about my home town of Malmesbury in Wiltshire and the two supermarkets that are trying to open in the town – Sainsbury’s and Waitrose. The planning issues have caused huge debate in the town and the local MP has been very vocal – possibly not with the towns best interests in mind…..

leave well alone please Eric!

The applications were both delayed from earlier in the year to allow further discussion (as the Government is keen to promote) and were decided in June by the planning committee – and the decision went as recommended by the planning officer – a refusal for Sainsbury’s (situated too far away from the town) and consent for the Waitrose on the site behind the old silk mill. In my opinion the correct decision – the Waitrose site is close enough to the town to work with it rather than against it.

So in an ideal world the planning officers decision (he is paid to advise after all) would stand. But not if you are the local MP it appears. He asked the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to call the decision in. This has caused further uncertainty in the town – exactly what it doesn’t need at the moment. After all, who would open a new business in a town with this level of uncertainty hanging over it?

I wrote this blog some while ago and didn’t get round to publishing it, I considered its subject was probably a ‘one off’ and perhaps I was getting worked up over nothing! But this week a very similar situation has occurred here in Nottingham – an MP asking for a decision to be called in again by Eric Pickles, despite all due process having been followed.

In my mind this just can’t be right, holding back land in this way delays both house building (which the Government are demanding) and the economy as a whole. It also appears to be totally at odds with what the Government claim to be trying to achieve with their ‘localism’ program.

Perhaps it’s time to think about local issues first and politics second?

This time English Heritage have got it wrong…….

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Waitrose would be behind this – no real view then!

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?

Sainsbury’s show their true colours?

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I blogged a few weeks ago about my concerns for the High Street of my home town Malmesbury since planning applications were put in for large stores there by both Waitrose and Sainsbury’s.

keep smiling Justin

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?

Supermarkets and small towns.

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I am a small town lad and proud of it – we live in a society today that unfortunately believes that ‘bigger is better’. However the ‘small town upbringing’ that I had is, I think, good for providing a better understanding of what really makes our country tick and perhaps make me a little more understanding about the differences between city and county.

The Abbey

My home town is Malmesbury in Wiltshire – described as a hill-top town, it is rather pretty as it is surrounded on three sides by rivers. It has a Norman Abbey (or what is left of it) at its heart and was also the capital of England once (no really!) and has a King buried in the Abbey (Athelstan). It was also the site of the first manned flight (by Elmer the monk).

So, a lot of history and not a huge amount of room for the town to grow, although it has over the last 30 years more than doubled in size. Unfortunately that now makes it of interest to the large supermarket operators and it is now subject to two planning applications – one from Sainsbury’s and one from Waitrose.

Now, I have commented on this blog numerous times before about my view on the negative effect that the supermarket has had on our town centres (and our way of life). Mostly by way they cause the loss of the traditional traders – butchers, bakers etc, and this is my concern in respect of Malmesbury. The town, which has a population of around 5000, still has two bakers, two good butchers and green grocers and delis and similar. It has a real community feel to the High Street and surrounding area, my dread is that the supermarkets will kill this dead.

As usual both supermarket operators are offering ‘the world’ to the town by pushing all the positives to get the planning they desire – link buses to the store etc. My personal hope is that neither application succeeds, but realistically one of the applications will undoubtably be passed, if so I hope it won’t be Sainsbury’s, as their site is too far out of the town. History tells me that they will perhaps also “change the ground rules” once they have the permission!

Waitrose have a site closer to the town centre (within walking distance) and will in my view be a kinder bed fellow for the local businesses if they are forced to have one. Time will tell, but I really hope my home town doesn’t become yet another victim of the supermarket tidal wave! Whatever happens there are interesting times ahead for Malmesbury.

A good pitch is always a good pitch!

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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!

Well done Ocado!

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I am not a big fan of the Supermarkets (as regular readers of my blog will be fully aware) – I believe that our love of everything under one roof has cost us the small independant shop on our high streets. However, living in a city I have little choice and have to frequent one or other of the big 4 – normally Sainsbury’s. I don’t enjoy it, but needs must!

This week however we received a voucher offering us £15 off our first order from Ocado. Now, Ocado are a bit different from the other supermarket delivery systems in that your order comes directly from a warehouse, and is not ‘picked’ in a supermarket. We have used Sainsbury’s home delivery service in the past, but found that the stock levels were often poor and the ‘replacements’ offered for missing items were often ‘random’ to say the least! Plus the Ocado system reduces the miles the food travels which appeals to me.

So, we thought Ocado was worth having a go at – friends have told us previously how good they are. So on Friday evening instead of going to Sainsbury’s we, (well for most of the time my Wife), sat down to make the order. First use of a website is often a trial – but Ocado appear to have sorted theirs – and the first order was completed fairly swiftly considering it was a first time.

They also have an excellent iPhone app which was updated with our order instantly. So far so good!

The order was due for Saturday evening and at around 2pm we received a text confirming the time of delivery, the name of the driver and even the registration of the van! We were also informed of one substitution which was a sensible one (unlike the Sainsbury’s experience).

The order arrived 10 minutes early (the driver apologised and offered to come back if it wasn’t convenient) and was very helpful. Everything is also bagged in a way that makes it easy to put it away and sell by dates are logged on the bill. We have found with Sainsbury’s that we got lots of short dated stuff – not with Ocado!

So all in all a great first experience and one that I would recommend. Plus their prices are not bad either!