Sainsbury’s Justin King – It’s not fair, it’s not our fault!

The top dog at Sainsbury claims that high street shops have brought about their own demise and that it is nothing to do with the supermarkets he and his mates in the business have infested our towns and cities with. Is he just been funny or bullish, or does he really believe what he’s saying?

It might of been just possible to see the supermarkets as mounting fair competition to other food stuff providers when they were of a town centre scale and location. However, as soon as they decided to seek green field sites, away from centres of population, followed by selling an ever increasing range of non-food goods, it was no longer the case. The purchasing muscle deployed by supermarkets, combined with a ruthless and cut throat approach to pricing from their suppliers, means that the small independent retailer, of the standard fare, has no hope of competing.

If Mr King really believes that town centre shops are not falling victim to his brand of business, then he, along with all the other supermarket bosses, should be doing something to support and
encourage them, instead of trampling them under foot. Nor should he suggest that they can afford to run loyalty schemes, ala Nectar points, that will cut even further in to already threadbare profit margins.

Why don’t the supermarkets set up an investment fund that buys up blocks of town centre shops in areas that are struggling. They could then offer these premises to startup businesses that were either non-existent, or poorly represented in that high street, at a peppercorn rent. Only when the numbers started to add up, would the rent begin to increase and then at a very modest rate. Taxpayers would also do their bit by giving business rates relief for the same period. Even if the shop never became particularly profitable, as long it was providing a valuable service and adding colour and variety to its town centre, it would be supported. A pipe dream I know and something the voracious share holders of the big 4 would probably never wear, but one
Iives in hope.

Making policy by letter

I’m beginning to notice a growing trend in the method being used by this government to make our planning system fit it’s non-planning agenda.

The most recent demonstration of this, is a new consultation on whether or not the installation of security shutters should be permitted development. That would mean that, unlike now, any shop owner that wished to install steel shutters to their shop front, could do so without applying for planning permission. Whilst I have no wish to see planning rules imposed for the sake of it, allowing people to do things without considering the wider impact, is guaranteed to create undesired effects. In the vast majority of cases, a high street turned into a steel walled alley every night, is a very undesirable effect.

Window shopping is a free and enjoyable past time for many people, especially in the summer months and helps to keep a town centre alive and interesting, even when the shops are closed. Endless steel shutters would effectively make a high street a no-go area, telling any visitors that it is a potential trouble spot, where the occupants have had to put up the barricades.

The consultation document refers to the character of an area being protected, as in the case of conservation areas. However, the numerous bear traps that are present in the recently published (for yet another consultation) National Planning Policy Framework, are likely to frustrate councils wishing to control such things as steel shutters on the high street.

The government has recently thrown all of the existing detailed planning policy guidance on to one it’s red tape bonfires. It would now seem that DCLG, through it’s planning mouth piece, the Chief Planner, will ensure that things are done it’s way, by the issuing of letters such as the one referring to security shutters. Even though they’ve called it a consultation letter, it would probably be far more accurate to call it a, ‘this is what we’re going to do eventually letter’. Standby for a lot more of the same.