Supermarkets versus People: Redressing The Balance

It’s been quite quiet here for the last few weeks as people have been away on holiday or busy on other projects, but we’re back up and running once again and raring to go.

First up, here’s a great petition that neatly encapsulates the exact issues that we are trying to deal with here. A campaign group in the Somerset town of Frome, Keep Frome Local, has set up a very well worded HM Government e-petition (the online petitions that replaced the very successful but recently closed Number 10 petitions):

Supermarkets versus People: redressing the balance

Responsible department: Department for Communities and Local Government

Throughout the UK there are disputes between the wishes of local communities and the four large supermarket chains. The large supermarkets appear increasingly predatory and intrusive on local communities and often over-ride the wishes of local people. The government needs to put in place more transparent, comprehensible and directly accountable planning processes for large retailers, that local people are better able to influence. They need to put in place mechanisms to redress the balance between large, well-funded retailers who are able to engage in prolonged campaigns of many years, and local communities who are usually under-funded and ill-resourced. The outcome must be to cultivate sustainable communities in which retailers serve the long-term interests of these communities, rather than the short-term interests of remote shareholders.

I couldn’t put it better myself. Please sign the petition and spread the word. If it gets 100,000 signatures it has to be considered by government and could even get debated in parliament if it gets enough traction.

Stoke Newington Ward Councillor Surgery on Thursday

***Sorry, that’s twice now. No surgery this month, normal service resumed next month***

For everyone who lives in Stoke Newington Ward, your councillors should be having a surgery this Saturday (2nd Saturday of the month). This will be an excellent opportunity to meet them and discuss the development in person.

More information on who your councillors are and where and when the surgeries will take place can be found here.

Hackney Downs & Lordship Wards Councillor Surgeries on Sunday

For everyone who lives in either Hackney Downs or Lordship Wards, your councillors should be having a surgery this Sunday (1st Sunday of the month). This will be an excellent opportunity to meet them and discuss the development in person.  You will also have an opportunity next Sunday as both wards also have surgeries on the 2nd Sunday of the month.

More information on who your councillors are and where and when the surgeries will take place can be found here.

Clissold Ward Councillor Surgery on Monday

*** correction: no surgery in August ***

For everyone who lives in Clissold Ward, your councillors should be having a surgery this Monday (1st Monday of the month). This will be an excellent opportunity to meet them and discuss the development in person.

More information on who your councillors are and where and when the surgeries will take place can be found here.

Who’s Kidding Who – A Response

This post is in response to an article published today on the Hackney Hive website, Who’s kidding who over Stoke Newingtons Sainsbury’s proposal

Hi Remi

I’m involved in the Stokey Local campaign and I thought it was worth responding with a few thoughts about your article on Hackney Hive today. My feeling is that you are mischaracterising the views of the people involved: this campaign is not simply about Church Street and property prices.

We don’t pretend to speak for the whole community. As the strapline to the Stokey Local website says it is “A community response”, not “The community response”. We’ve only been in existence for a little over 3 weeks, so haven’t quite managed to talk to everyone in Stoke Newington about the development yet, but we’re working on it and we’re certainly keen to hear from as many people as possible.

Our response is just one of many that local residents will have had, but judging by the petition (which can be found in more than 30 shops on the High Street and Church Street as well as on this website), the feedback from shopkeepers and the reaction to the consultation, we align with a substantial section of the community.

We have pulled together a map of the shops within half a mile of the site that would, to a greater or lesser extent, be in competition with a new supermarket. From that map you can clearly see that the grocery retail heart of Stoke Newington is the High Street rather than Church Street. This is where the core of day-to-day Stoke Newington life is played out, and to suggest that we are only concerned about Church Street is quite wide of the mark.

New jobs are without a doubt hugely important at the moment, especially in Hackney, but it’s worth digging a bit deeper into the figure of “200 new jobs” that the developer and Sainsbury’s are claiming will be brought to the area. The nature of the UK planning system means that they are only required to declare how many jobs they will bring to the area, they don’t need to consider the impact on net jobs in the wider local economy.

Firstly this figure of 200 jobs does not represent full time equivalent jobs but is a mix of part time and full time jobs. At the consultation it was claimed that around 60% would be part time and 40% would be full time. We haven’t dug into that number yet to see if it stacks up with other supermarkets but we intend to do so, as the representatives of Sainsbury’s and the developer couldn’t manage to come up with a number of FTEs at the time.

Secondly there is the important question of whether the existing Sainsbury’s Local would remain open given that it is located just a few minutes stroll from the site. We don’t yet know how many people are employed there but if it were to close then that would make a substantial reduction in the number of net jobs that could be generated by the development.

Thirdly supermarkets employ far fewer people per unit of turnover than independents, and we feel that it is vitally important that the long term sustainability of the local economy and employment market should be taken into account by considering the effects on employment in the existing stores.

You may well be right that some shops will maintain a strong customer base even with the opening of the supermarket, but others won’t and shops will close. There is a high turnover of people in London and initially loyal customers will eventually drift away, to be replaced by newcomers who perhaps don’t feel such a strong attachment to the local stores. The effects won’t be seen immediately, but over time footfall will slowly slip away from the independents towards the supermarket. Shops will start to close down and the character of our neighbourhood will slowly but surely start to melt away.

You clearly value the independent shops that make up our community: “protecting small local independent businesses is paramount in any community, but I feel a few big names is a nice balance and will introduce much needed foot traffic to Church Street businesses”.

Our problem is that a supermarket of this size is completely out of kilter with the existing retail makeup of the local area and it is difficult to see how the proposed development is striking a “nice balance”.


Going Back In Time: 1999 Wilmer Place Planning Brief

There has been some discussion of the council’s views on the land at Wilmer Place in terms of how it should be developed. Initially it was thought that the land had been zoned for retail and housing and that this was the only option, however there appears to be a lot more to it than that.

Taking a look at the 1999 planning brief for Wilmer Place we find some interesting points in relation to this development. This document “has been the subject of public consultation and has been approved by a resolution at Committee and therefore is considered by this Council as a material consideration in the preparation of development proposals and determination of planning applications for this site.”

The developer has adopted a couple of the recommendations in the planning brief (retaining the car park and having a mixed use development) but there are other important which appear to have been ignored, for example:

  • “The most sensitive part of the site is that facing Abney Park Cemetery where the scale of any development should be lower and quality of design very high.”
  • “To achieve a high quality of design of any new development proposal that preserves or enhances the Conservation Area and the setting of Abney Park Cemetery.”
  • “Redevelopment of properties including demolition is unlikely to be granted planning permission and Conservation Area Consent”
  • “The development of the eastern side of this area should include uses that are compatible with, and strengthen the commercial future of, the town centre. These include retail, office, community, arts, culture and entertainment activities.”

I can see nothing in the design that suggests that it is sensitive to the proximity of Abney Park – the rear elevations of the development, closest to Abney Park, appear to be the highest parts and would overshadow the entrance to the park.

Furthermore the destruction of properties lying within the Conservation Area seems to fly in the face of the second and third point given above and were the reason for the rejection of a planning application in 2009 (post coming on that soon).

Finally I’m yet to find any evidence that the development of a large supermarket is “compatible with” or could “strengthen the commercial future of” Stoke Newington and the fear which is shared by most people in this campaign is that it would do the complete opposite.

Large supermarkets suck money out of communities and there are many cases around the country of these developments destroying formerly thriving, characterful shopping streets. Independent, locally owned shops on the other hand keep a much greater proportion of the money spent in their businesses revolving within the community because they make greater use of local services and the profits don’t get funnelled off to remote head offices and shareholders.

This Planning Brief is expected to be replaced by the Site Allocation Consultation in 2012, and while it is an old document, it is the most recent document we have which outlines the views of Hackney Council.

Crucially, little has changed in Stoke Newington to invalidate those comments highlighted above. What has changed in the meantime is that the local area has acquired four more supermarkets. If additional retail facilities are to be included in a design, surely yet another supermarket isn’t the sort of retail facility that is needed or that would benefit the area?

In forthcoming posts I will discuss a piece of research conducted for Hackney Council in 2005 as well as the 2009 planning application.

As ever, please feel free to add your  thoughts in the comments below.

Cazenove Ward Councillor Surgery on Thursday

For everyone who lives in Cazenove Ward, your councillor should be having a surgery this Thursday (3rd Thursday of the month). This will be an excellent opportunity to meet them and discuss the development in person.  You will also have an opportunity next Wednesday (4th Wednesday of the month) and in the first week of August.

More information on who your councillors are and where and when the surgeries will take place can be found here.

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Packed Public Meeting a Big Success

Many thanks to all those who came down to Defoe Road on Wednesday evening for what turned out to be a packed, and very productive meeting with around 150 people and lots of energy and enthusiasm.

The evening started with an introduction to the work of Hackney Unites from John and Jane. This was followed by an update from Jamie on the development proposal and the Stokey Local campaign and then Shilpa talked about a similar campaign against a Tesco development in Mill Road in Cambridge.

After the introductory talks, the session was opened out to the floor and a very interesting discussion followed. Points were made about subjects including:

  • The people living in live/work units right on the site
  • The Localism Bill which is currently working its way through parliament and which could offer some protection from unwanted development to communities
  • The possibility of setting up a local community council
  • The importance of protecting Abney Park Cemetery
  • The role of local councillors in the planning process
  • The need for a distinctive image and poster for the campaign

Afterwards the meeting broke into groups to discuss next steps for communications work, the planning process, assessing the environmental impacts and other areas, and out of that we now have yet more projects underway which will drive the campaign forwards.

If you want to get involved or have skills or time that would be of use to the campaign then please head over to the forum where you can see what’s going on and add your thoughts as well.

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