Sunday, 30 January 2011

Didn't you hear us the first time?

Between 2004 and 2010 a total of 57 new supermarkets opened in Bristol. We went from having 19 to 76(!) in the space of 6 years. That's 9 a year. With 11 approvals between November 2008 and November 2010 our city ranked 4th in the list of Approved 'Big Four' Stores (ie Asda, Sainsburys, Tesco & Morrisons). What an honour, and I don't think! I believe there is an 'app' to find your nearest Tesco store. Why bother when you can be sure of coming across one round every corner!

In just over one month's time Bristol City Council's planning committee will hear Sainsbury's latest application. It's to build a 9,000 sq m superstore at Ashton Gate. This is not the first, nor even the second application to build a supermarket on this site. Tesco's application was rejected by the planners. Sainsbury's first application was recommended by the planners but turned down by the committee. Unfortunately for us some people won't take no for an answer and they're back again. Unfortunately for them, we'll be waiting!

If you live in Bristol, or somewhere else that's being threatened by the relentless march of the supermarket giant across our land you may be interested in the Stop Sainsbury's website or the Panorama website from which I pinched the statistics and the photo.

I reproduce below the text of the objection I submitted this afternoon.

Watch this space!

I object to Sainsbury’s planning application for the following reasons:

Sainsbury’s describes their proposal as a relocation. While this is technically true it is far from the full story. The distance between the existing and proposed stores may only be 500m but the move is from Ashton Vale, an isolated area with few other shops, and for whose residents Sainsbury’s has become the local retailer, to Ashton Gate, a residential area with a thriving local high street. Relocation implies a simple move, but here too Sainsbury’s have not painted the whole picture. The proposed store will be almost double the size of the existing one with over 200 more parking spaces and a 50% increase in the number of petrol pumps. The ratio of food to comparison goods will be altered, with much greater emphasis on the latter (4% increase in convenience goods as opposed to a 240% increase in comparison goods). This is not a relocation. This is a new store and to describe it otherwise is both inaccurate and misleading.

Sainsbury’s assert that their proposed store will create 450 new jobs. However, given that there are 29% less jobs at Sainsbury’s since their last expansion in 2001, when they promised a 50% increase, it is hard to believe them this time round. The existing store has already installed a number of automated check outs and it is likely that these will feature heavily in the proposed store. There is no account taken of the number of jobs that might be lost in the area if businesses close as a consequence of this development.

Sainsbury’s claims that the proposed store will better meet the needs of its customers. While they may be able to offer the residents of Bedminster a wider range of products and an enhanced shopping experience, they will be unable to offer them a better quality of life. By Sainsbury’s own admission the proposed store will lead to a 20% increase in traffic in the surrounding vicinity. However if the proposed development was treated as the new store it will be, rather than as a existing store with an expansion as claimed, this figure would increase to anything between 45% and 63% at peak times. Duckmoor Road, one of the most congested routes in Bristol, is likely to grind to a standstill under the combined impact of traffic to the proposed store and the new stadium at Ashton Vale. Air quality will deteriorate and roads will become more dangerous, particularly for children and the elderly. The walking route to Ashton Park Secondary will be ‘unsafer’ and access to Greville Smythe Park will be more hazardous.

Sainsbury’s will make their existing site available for housing and employment development. However, in order to do so, the existing store will need to be demolished, as will the existing stadium at Ashton Gate. It seems to me to make far better sense to keep the store where it is, serving the needs of Ashton Vale, and locate the housing and employment development at Ashton Gate which offers both better access and infrastructure for such a project.

Sainsbury’s states that their proposed store will help to bring a new regional stadium to Bristol. The council have already dismissed the enabling development argument and, given the fact that the World Cup will now not be coming to England, let alone Bristol, this is a spurious argument. If Bristol City Football Club, despite their position in the lower half of the Championship League and their precarious financial situation, wish to pursue their dream of a world class stadium, they must do so without holding the local community to ransom. It is grossly unfair and deeply divisive to equate objection to a superstore with opposition to a new stadium.

Sainsbury’s have come up with measures to make it easier for people to reach the store without using their car. These are apparently in response to points made by the committee and feedback from the community. Unfortunately they amount to no more than window dressing as they make very little difference to the unsustainability of the application. The proposal to double the number of existing bus services and introduce three new ones will indeed make it easier for people in areas such as Long Ashton to reach the proposed store but will encourage them to do so at the expense of their own local shops. Likewise for the 100 cycle parking spaces and new cycle path and enhanced walkway.

Sainsbury’s have revealed themselves to be very disingenuous in these revisions to their original application. Their proposed store was never meant to attract shoppers on foot, by bike or on buses. If this were the case why would they need a car park with 200 extra spaces for vehicles or a 50% bigger petrol station? The truth of the matter is that this store is designed for the car owner to drive in, park, shop, consume, load up and drive off. It is a one stop shop for ‘everything’ a shopper needs, literally all under one roof. The suggestion that a visit to the proposed store might be combined with a visit to North Street is fanciful. And, the notion that improved pedestrian features on Ashton Road and Winterstoke Road would make the application more acceptable is insulting.

Sainsbury’s have raised the proposed store’s BREEAM rating to excellent. This is quite frankly the least they could have done but if Dartmouth’s experience in 2008 is anything to go by then they will fail to deliver. In any event, even if it ensures that the building itself is the most sustainable Sainsbury’s in the South West, it does nothing to mitigate the damage from the intolerable levels of carbon emissions generated by the hundreds of vehicles that will flow through its car park every day.

Bristol City councillors have to face up to their responsibility. It is all too easy to pay lip service to initiatives such as the Green City Momentum and the 10:10 campaign. It is much harder to take the decisions that make an actual difference. This is one of them.
Sainsbury’s are developing a package of support for local retailers. I find it impossible to believe that the traders have not already considered these suggestions themselves. Indeed some of them are already being successfully addressed. I were a local trader I would consider the best support Sainsbury’s could give me would be stay where they are in Ashton Vale and leave North Street to continue to flourish as it has been doing over the past years.

The planning committee rejected Sainsbury’s application on 21 July 2010 on grounds relating to traffic and threat to local retail. This revised application has not only failed to address these issues satisfactorily but has, in some instances, only exacerbated them.

It is for these reasons that I urge the Council to reject the application.


  1. Hope your campaign works, it didn't in Helston - which now has 4 supermarkets in the small town centre, though the people of Mevagissey managed to stop Tesco, but of course they'll keep trying. In France, supermarkets are everywhere - just awful!

  2. I'm sorry to hear about Helston but well done Mevagissey. Now that there's no longer the requirement to demonstrate need, I fear that there will be more and more supermarkets springing up all over the place. Let's hope that we are succesful in stopping this one.