Whose town is it anyway?

Tomorrow morning, Babergh Council Planning Committee will host the latest episode in the  Hadleigh v Tesco saga. Tesco – having bought land in the town – have been trying to build in Hadleigh for many years, despite considerable opposition from local residents and shops.  Hadleigh is a small attractive market town with a population of about 8000 people, and is home to several local shops as well as a Co-op and (from this year) a Morrisons supermarket on the town bypass.  I shop there fairly often as I like the shops – most of those in Hadleigh are not only independent but also good shops in their own right.  (That said I haven’t ever bought quails eggs in them, which our local MP Tim Yeo is proud to claim he has!)

Hadleigh has a distinctive town centre,  due to the presence of a variety of shops, public services and places to eat.    Town centres, and the communities within them, only thrive when used. How we use them is indeed changing, and will probably change much more in the next few years.  But opening a supermarket within walking distance of a town centre doesn’t give that centre time to evolve –  it just takes an axe to its economic and community potential, as I saw in a North Somerset town earlier this year.  Does that matter? It depends what kind of world we want to live in, not just now but in our older age: one of the interesting things about town centres, or so it seems to me, is that they are used most by the generations least likely to be  be making decisions about them.

A poll of Hadleigh residents revealed that 73% are opposed to any supermarket on the site owned by Tesco.  Babergh council’s economic development team  (supported by independent academic and judicial reports) states that  “the additional benefits created by a Tesco food store do not outweigh the impact on the high street and the wider economy and [they] consider that approval would have a negative effect on the sustainability and vitality of Hadleigh Town centre.”

So why are Babergh even having to consider an additional supermarket?  Because (or so it seems to me) current arrangements dictate that big business ‘owns’ the debate. Apparently Tesco opposed the plans to build Morrisons.  Perhaps not surprising when you consider that one of Tesco’s justifications for their store is that people have to travel to Ipswich or Colchester for their ‘main shop’ which, it would seem, can only be done in Tesco.  It might be argued that Tesco comes in for particular vitriol, so would people mind as much if the proposal came from Waitrose? I hope so – the plans on the site concerned require compulsory purchase of the town’s allotments, building on a water meadow, safety concerns due to the narrowness of road access and of course the threat to the local shops and the local producers whose products are sold in them.

Here’s the rub: if you spend £100 in a local independent business, between £50 and £70 of that money stays in the local economy. If you spend the same amount in a supermarket (any supermarket), only £10 continues to circulate locally.  That’s partly why towns like Hadleigh, with a mix of independent shops serving a variety of needs, make nice places to live.

People can only eat so much food, so there is only so much they will buy. Independent shops can’t survive as the ‘top-up’ service for goods that aren’t available in the supermarkets. And in Hadleigh, an extra supermarket simply isn’t fulfilling a need, just forcing a competition.  Surely it’s time for Tesco to do the decent thing, as Costa did in Totnes, and recognise that it is not in fact needed everywhere?



One response to this post.

  1. Good news doesn’t often come up, but it has today! Babergh planning committee rejected the proposal from Tesco as reported in the EADT here http://www.eadt.co.uk/news/hadleigh_council_rejects_plans_for_a_major_new_tesco_store_1_2676936


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