Monday, 7 January 2008

Sainsbury’s are coming?

You have to admire Sainsbury’s PR: lead story in the Morpeth Herald in Christmas week, with echoes of all the Christmas food advertising – nicely raising expectations well ahead of any formal consultation, let alone a planning application – and leaving any opposition sounding like whinging killjoys.

And yes – if you’re a fan of supermarket shopping, then it’d be good have an alternative to Morrison’s (given that the Co-Op is closing and
overlooking Lidl) – although part of the rationale for allowing the expansion of Morrison’s as part of the Town Centre redevelopment was that it would reduce the need for an out of town supermarket.

There are three main threads of argument against the Sainsbury’s proposal:

First – the eco-warrior arguments: we should be supporting local shops and local producers, reducing foodmiles, buying only in-season produce and giving food producers a better deal.

On this argument, supermarkets - in general - transport food further, drain money out of the local economy and bully farmers through their purchasing power. And they’ve little real notion of ‘local food’.

Did you hear about the supermarket – let’s call it ‘Safeways’ for legal reasons that decided to sell Northumbrian Hill lamb in Alnwick. They bought the lamb from the Cheviots, had it slaughtered in Sunderland – then shipped it down to Hampshire for butchering and packing – before bringing it back to the Alnwick shop marked as ‘local produce’. And the launch was in July – an unseasonal time of year for Hill lamb. Anyway…

Second – that an edge of town supermarket would ‘kill off’ the town centre shops. This is the Chamber of Trade argument – and would be stronger if they hadn't used this argument against every proposed change in the last 20 years.

Morpeth does have a better range of locally owned shops than most market towns (and a good farmers’ market) – and it is these that make Morpeth different, and should be a major attraction for shoppers. This is covered by the Market Town ‘healthcheck’ carried out a couple of years ago which is now in the hands of the Greater Morpeth Development Trust. I hope we hear from them on this.
At the moment then, we have one side asserting that an out of town Sainsbury’s will pull shoppers away from the town centre and the other side asserting that a Sainsbury’s will attract more people to Morpeth. No real weight of evidence on either side.

And third – planning issues – which in the absence of aTown Plan, are probably the only real grounds for rejecting the scheme. Government planning policy still retains the requirement to demonstrate a ‘need’ for out of town shops, that there is no suitable site in the town centre – and that’ll be interesting. Then there are all the site-specific issues: greenfield land, settlement boundary, traffic implications etc – but Sainsbury’s have the money to outlast the Borough Council.

In fact – if there are any problems - they can hold out till the unitary authority comes along, they’ll probably get the thing through while the new council’s planning committees are ‘bedding in’.

I’ll be doing my best to resist the development. Anyone else?

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