Ulverston is threatened with two new superstores. What will it mean for our town?
Sainsbury’s wants to build a new out of town superstore on the ‘Beehive’ site on the A590, just outside Ulverston. The site is currently a green field: the superstore chain would like to replace that with 20,000 square feet of floor space, a petrol station and jet wash, a restaurant and a 260-space car park. Their planning application was submitted to South Lakeland District Council at the end of September. The deadline for objections to their proposal has now passed.
At the same time, Frederic Robinson, the brewer, is attempting to get planning permission for a superstore on the site of the old Hartleys Brewery, at the edge of the town centre. Robinsons have been trying to do this for nearly three years – their first attempt was beaten back on the basis of the impact that the development would have on the built heritage of the town. Now they are back with an altered design. But it is still essentially the same proposition – a big superstore on the edge of the town centre.
Robinsons plans (which can be viewed here) involve demolishing much of the historic brewery site at the edge of the town centre, and constructing a building for use as a superstore, which would then be rented out to a major supermarket chain. Robinsons are refusing to say which chain they have in mind – or even whether any company has shown serious interest. The store would be 20,000 square feet, with a 90-space underground car park. The company claims it would create ‘up to 100’ jobs. The full planning application for the development can be viewed here
A big superstore would directly compete with the town’s butchers, bakers, greengrocers, newsagents, cafes, delicatessens and market stalls, sucking business from them. Keep Ulverston Special has conducted its own research in the town centre, which indicates that over half of the independent retailers in the town are likely to be directly affected by a new superstore.
When independent retailers go up against major chains, they are fighting with one hand tied behind their backs. In 2006, the House of Commons All-Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group published a report on the impact superstores were having on small and independent retailers in the UK. It reported that just between 2000 and 2006, Britain experienced ‘a decline of 5,000, or 11%, in the number of independent retail operators’, and pinned much of the blame for this on the expansion of superstores.
This should also be seen in the national context. In 2008, the Competition Commission laid out the impact that big superstores have had on local economies in Britain over the last few deacdes. The number of big superstores, they reported, increased from just under 300 in 1980 to almost 1,500 in 2007. Meanwhile, the number of butchers and greengrocers declined from 40,000-45,000 each in the 1950s to fewer than 10,000 each by 2000. The number of bakeries declined from around 25,000 in 1950 to around 8,000 by 2000 and the number of fishmongers declined from around 10,000 to around 2,000 over the same period.
This trend has accelerated in recent years. 30,000 independent food, beverage and tobacco retailers closed down between 1997 and 2007. 50 specialist shops closed every week in just the five years between 1997 and 2002. Meanwhile, as Channel 4 news reported recently, superstores are in the middle of an unprecedented expansion drive: a new superstore, or superstore extension, opens somewhere in Britain every single day.
This is nonsense. Sainsbury’s claim on their website that ‘research has shown Ulverston residents are currently using other towns, such as Barrow, to do their food shopping.’ Nowhere do they tell us what this ‘research’ is, or where it has come from. Robinsons also claims that ‘70%’ of Ulverstonians shop in Barrow and that their store would actually bring people back into our town centre. Both claims are misleading.
There is only one recent piece of comprehensive, independent research into how Ulverstonians shop, and its findings are very inconvenient for the developers.
The South Lakeland Retail Study Update 2012, commissioned by SLDC and carried out by independent retail consultants Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners, is based on telephone interviews carried out earlier this year. It reveals that – far from most of Ulverston’s convenience shopping being done in Barrow at present – most shopping is actually done at the town centre shops and in Booth’s. The study shows that 57.7% of Ulverstonian’s spending on convenience goods – that’s food and regular shoppping – is spent either in the town centre or in Booths. Just over 40% is spent elsewhere, and much of the money that goes to the superstores in Barrow is spent by people who live in Ulverston but work in Barrow.
In other words – nearly 60% of what we spend on food and regular shopping is already spent in Ulverston.
No. The South Lakeland Retail Study Update also looked into what size of new foodstore this town could support. The study put the convenience capacity for Ulverston in 2012 at around 11,437 square feet – just over half the size of what both Sainsbury’s and Robinson wants to build. Even by 2025, Ulverston’s capacity would only be 14,827 square feet.
It is clear from this that a store of the size proposed by either Robinsons or Sainsbury’s would be hugely damaging to the local economy of the town and the region. In addition, the retail study singles out the site Sainsbury’s wants to build on as being ‘a poor location for retail development.’
The reality is that an out-of-town store on this site would suck trade out of our local economy and hand it over to the shareholders of big supermarket corporations. We are already in the middle of a global recession, and local businesses are fighting for survival. A giant corporation moving in could be a death blow for many local businesses and jobs.
There will certainly be new jobs – but what kind of jobs will they be, and how long will they last? Many will be part-time, low waged and unskilled, and there is no gurantee of the number of jobs that will be provided.
Even more importantly though – new superstores take jobs away as well as providing new ones. When a big superstore opens in a small town it has knock-on effects on the local economy. Shops close, and local suppliers lose business (supermarket chains don’t buy punnets of gooseberries or boxes of eggs from local farmers). And if footfall to the town centre falls off as a result of the new store, many independently-run businesses in the town centre will be affected, and high-quality jobs will go.
A number of studies have demonstrated that big new superstores often result in local job loss overall. In 1998, a report by the National Retail Planning Forum (quoted by the Competition Commission in its major report on superstores ten years later), based on a study of a number of superstore openings, reported that each new superstore actually resulted in a net loss of 276 jobs within a 15km radius. A more recent report, published last year by the Alliance of Convenience Stores, concluded that:
‘… when assessing applications, planners should be extremely cautious of being seduced by the promise of job creation in hard times. Not only are these figures misleading but the reality could actually be a net loss in jobs down the track and the destruction of small businesses and entrepreneurs capable of generating exactly that economic development.’
Big superstores have a number of impacts on small towns. They take business from local traders and suppliers, which has a knock-on effect on employment – a key factor. The economic impacts, outlined above, are clear.
But there are wider impacts too. Ulverston is a town with a distinctive character and a sense of place. Much of that comes from its network of local shops, its markets and its strong local identity. A bland, homogenous supermarket on the edge of the town will change that character radically – especially if Market Street and King Street become rows of empty shops as a result.
Ulverston’s character is its selling point. It is why people attend our festivals and visit the town. It is what makes Ulverston special. It seems that South Lakes District Council agrees with this assessment. Their Local Plan for the future of Ulverston and the district states clearly that:
it is important that the overall vitality and viability of the town centre is protected and enhanced. To achieve this, the Local Plan will seek to improve the attractiveness of the town centre whilst at the same time limiting new retail development which would jeopardise the vitality of the existing shopping area. Small scale development and re-development schemes will be allowed in the centre, providing that they are appropriate in scale and character.
The proposed stores are not ‘small scale’, and would most definitely ‘jeopardise the vitality of the shopping area’ and the ‘overall vitality and viability of the town centre’. They fly in the face of the Local Plan our elected representatives have put together. It also flies in the face of national planning policy guidance. The National Planning Policy Framework 2012 – the government’s guidelines on how to assess planning applications – is explicit about the duty upon local authorities to ‘recognise town centres as the heart of their communities and pursue policies to support their viability and vitality.’ The NPPF states that:
Where an application … is likely to have significant adverse impact on [town centre vitality and viability, including local consumer choice and trade in the town centre and wider area] … it should be refused.
SLDC’s own Retail Study Update clearly demonstrates that this development would bring about such a ‘significant adverse impact’ – and as such it should be turned down.
You don’t have to. Ulverston already has a wide and diverse range of grocery provision. We have two Co-ops, a Tesco Express, a large Booths and a wide range of independent shops including three butchers, two greengrocers, two bakers, an off-licence and the street market two days a week. If this really isn’t enough, Barrow is only fifteen minutes away, and contains a number of very large stores, including Tesco, Asda and Morrison. Fifteen minutes each way is not a lot of time for a weekly shop.
We believe that any new retailers who want to set up shop in Ulverston should do so in the town centre, so that they help support local traders rather than undermine them. Ultimately, we have to make a choice about what kind of Ulverston we want to see. Do we want to make an effort to support our local economy (a study by the New Economics Foundation has shown that each pound spent with a local retailer selling local produce puts twice as much money back into the local economy as a pound spent in a supermarket)? Do we want a unique town with a distinctive character and a sense of place? Or do we want empty shops and a bland clone town in exchange for a slightly more convenient weekly shopping trip? That’s the decision we have to make.
Quite the opposite. It is not just our opinion that these developments are wrong for Ulverston: both the SLDC Local Plan and the Core Strategy, around which local development is supposed to be based, are clear that there is no case for a big superstore store, and SLDC’s retail assessment shows they would be too big for Ulverston. National planning guidance also points to the case for rejection.
We can stop this threat to our town. Superstores have been fought off in other parts of the country – only last month, Sainsbury’s withdrew from Eastleigh in Hampshire after resistance from local people. But we have to do it now! If you are concerned, please write to SLDC by 31st MARCH TO SAY NO TO THE BREWERY DEVELOPMENT, and make your case clearly and strongly. Click here to find out how to do that.