On Tesco and Somersham

On the local Facebook group, I was asked about my stance on Tesco moving to the village.

When I first heard about the possibility of them taking over the Black Bull, I was opposed but assumed they wouldn’t get planning permission for the change of use – which shows I knew little about planning law. Once I realised no permission was required, I felt it inevitable it would go ahead and all that could be done was to minimise the impact on the village.

But when I was asked “so what if it was Waitrose?” my gut reaction was somewhat different (I don’t usually shop at Tesco). This made me stop and think about why I was really opposed: was it just prejudice against a particular chain?

In previous posts, I’ve talked about the importance of amenities like shops and pubs in building strong communities, so the loss of a pub was obvious to me, as was the potentially detrimental effect that a supermarket could have on the viability of the other local shops. Also: increased traffic on the already busy High Street, parking in front of the supermarket to use cash machines, daily deliveries, waste disposal, etc. Negatives were easy to list.

However balanced against these, there are other factors. Some of these are positives like increased choice and a wider range of goods for shoppers, but others are principles: supermarkets should have freedom to improve their business (so long as it doesn’t impinge on others freedoms), and the existing local shops might perform better with some fair competition.

What I ultimately decided was that the real issues are that existing planning laws allow such a change of use without planning permission and that there is no involvement of the local community in such planning decisions.

This change of use issue feels particularly odd to me: a while back, the council wanted to move the bus stops on the High Street and needed planning permission to do so. I was particularly interested as the new position was immediately outside of my front door, but I didn’t object as it prevents cars parking in front of my house at the cost of a few buses a day. But the point of my rambling is that the overall impact of moving the bus stops was significantly lower than that of a supermarket moving in.

Where does this leave me? I still don’t like them moving here, particularly as I live on the High Street and experience daily the traffic problems. But I find my opposition is now based on the fact that supermarkets (not just Tesco but any supermarket) can buy local amenities such as pubs and convert them without planning permission or local approval. I am hopeful that the Localism Bill will help prevent such abuses in the future and, if elected, I would work hard to ensure local opinion is heard.

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