Sunday, 13 March 2011

If at first you don't succeed ...

On Wednesday 2 March, at the third time of asking, Bristol City Council approved an application for a superstore on the the Bristol City Football Club site at Ashton Gate.

The first application by Tesco was withdrawn following an independent report that found there was no need for a new store (we already have an Asda, a Sainsburys, an Aldi, a Lidl, two small Tescos and an Iceland). The second application by Sainsbury's was recommended for approval by the planners but turned down by the councillors for unacceptable level of development, unacceptable increase in traffic and detrimental influence on local retail. Sainsbury's lodged an appeal against the first decision, while at the same time submitting a second revised application. This was recommended for refusal by the planners, on grounds of retail impact, but finally approved by the councillors, for reasons which were not obviously apparent to me on the night and are still to be published by the council.
This decision, in my opinion, is wrong for so many reasons. We don't need a new store, and certainly not one billed as the largest superstore in the southwest. It poses a real threat to our local high streets (trade diversion anything from the applicant's 3% figure to the independent consultant's 7% figure). It will lead to an increase in traffic (anything from the 20% predicted by the applicant to a possible 65% predicted by another consultant) and encourage car dependency. It will have an adverse effect on the quality of the lives of the residents adjacent to the store. It will lead to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions. It will encourage reliance on food produced hundreds, even thousands, of miles away rather than local produce. It will not deliver the number of jobs promised and may eventually lead to lower employment in the are. It is ultimately not future proof.

I've been involved with the Stop Sainsbury's campaign and its predecessors (Berate and Basics) since July 2009. I'm no expert in planning law, retail development, environmental science etc but I've worked alongside people who are, to mount a campaign against all three applications. I've leafleted flats. I've stood on the street engaging with passers by. I've emailed my MP and councillors on numerous occasions. I've blogged about it. I've made placards and demonstrated. I've invested time, money and emotion. And then came the decision on 2 March.

It hit me harder than I thought and is the reason I haven't blogged for over a week now. I couldn't bring myself to write about it but neither could I let it pass without comment. I couldn't have campaigned against these applications had I not been convinced that they were wrong and I guess I find it hard to accept that there are other people, including friends and acquaintances, who can't see how potentially damaging this superstore will be, not just to our local community, but to all our futures. We can no longer go on doing business as usual. However my greatest disappointment is in the people who couldn't care one way or another, who refuse to engage, who are prepared to allow events to take their course, who can't see the point in becoming involved. I just don't understand them.

Of course it's not all over yet. The decision, which is contrary to the council's own Local Plan(!) is automatically referred to the Secretary of State for approval and the call has gone out to all Stop Sainsbury's supporters to write to him asking him to 'call it in'. There are grounds for this. All 5 of the LibDem councillors on the committee were substituted less than a week before the date of the meeting to save them from a repeat of the abuse and intimidation they suffered following the hearing of the first application. Too much weight was given to the enabling argument (the sale of the old stadium ground to Sainsbury's will help finance the construction of a new stadium on Greenbelt land!). It is contrary not only to Bristol's Local Plan but also to National Policy and Bristol's emerging Core Strategy. The reports were inadequate and the traffic assessment was flawed.
Appealing to the Secretary of State is a long shot but well worth taking. If Sainsbury's can keep coming back, then so can we.

Besides, even I'm able to concede that it's not all been doom and gloom. This campaign has been instrumental in my forming new friendships, becoming more involved in the local community and renewing my passion for localism. It has also prompted me to do something I should perhaps have done much earlier ie renounce my membership of the Labour Party and join the Greens!

Never give up!


  1. GARETH: Powerful and humbling stuff. It's the passion of people like you that's inspiring for rather inadequate people like me! I'll be sending off another letter during the course of this week.
    Very many thanks for this. hugs x

  2. Hi Gai,

    Nice to see you back, but so sorry for your disappointment.

    All supermarkets are utterly vile, especially the mega stores that are built out of towns. They seem to find a way to win councils over & if they don't on the first occasion - they just keep pushing until they do.

    We can only hope that with everything that's going on in the world - peak oil will arrive sooner, rather than later... Supermarkets will become a thing of the past, folks will support their communities, work together, create co-operatives & live low impact lives.

    It's coming & something's got to give - we can't carry on living the way we do. Let's all hope for our's & our kids sakes that these changes will happen soon!

    Kay :)

  3. Gareth, I'm sorry you've been so winded by this awful decision. So much hard work and energy invested and then the knock back. I can understand that you would want to sit back and lick your wounds for a while. I know that you are one of the world's fighters for justice and that you'll pop back up. So many of us have discovered over the years that our beliefs and concerns are in a minority, going against the grain of self-interest and the commercial "growth" model. Unlike you I am not a natural activist - it is deeply alien to my nature to march, to put myself forward, to hold a placard. But I agree with you about the effect that this store is likely to have on our local community and I have become much more committed to local food and local trade. The members of the local community are the only ones who can keep North Street (and places like it) alive, so I/we will be writing to the Secretary of State and putting our money where our mouths are and shopping local.
    Moira xxx

  4. I am an American and our local economies have all already been swallowed up by superstores. It's really a shame in so many ways. They are a blister on the landscape for sure. FIght against it if you stand a chance, even if you don't it's worth the fight.

  5. My friend in Bristol has been involved with this campaign and I've been keeping up to date with it through her facebook posts, I can't believe there's a possibility of that horrible supermarket being built despite all your hard work...I've got my fingers crossed that the Secretary of State sees sense!

  6. Good luck with your campaigning, and glad to see you can find a silver lining in the clouds.

  7. On a different note, I just came across this

    If I knew at the time I'd completely forgotten about it. Do you remember it?