Gerry Farrell: We don’t need yet another supermarket in Leith

The New Leith Market, Dock Place, Leith. Picture; Toby Williams

The New Leith Market, Dock Place, Leith. Picture; Toby Williams

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Believe it or not dear readers, Edinburgh council has dictated - without consulting you - that Leith is to get another supermarket.

It has granted the Co-op an alcohol license which is apparently all the permission the Co-op needs to open a new store in Dock Place.

If you know Dock Place, you’ll be aware that it is home, every Saturday, to one of the best wee food, drink and craft markets in the UK – namely the Leith Market.

Let’s forget for a minute the deliberate skullduggery that led to the Co-op’s application being nodded through and let’s study the facts: there are already six Co-ops in Leith. Two of them are five minutes’ walk from Dock Place.

So on the face of it, Leith needs another Co-op like Elton John needs another pair of glasses. In fact, Leith needs another supermarket like Rihanna needs another pair of thigh-length, calfskin chaps.

We’ve got a 24-hour Asda at Newhaven, a Lidl at the Kirkgate, a big Tesco at Duke Street, a wee Tesco on Great Junction Street, a Sainsbury’s Local on Bernard Street and a thumping great Morrisons at Granton.

Let’s sweep under the rug the fact that a new Co-op at 3-10 Dock Place, (the old Mithas Indian restaurant building), will gravitate more heavy traffic, including HGV delivery wagons, towards an area where there’s barely room to walk without rubbing shoulders, never mind park a car or a lorry-load of frozen pasta bakes for unloading into this new Co-op.

Let’s set aside the views of the Scottish Historic Buidings Trust, who state that 3-10 Dock Place is a listed building and its façade cannot be modified without breaking the law.

Let’s also ignore the fact that as a listed building it has absolutely NO parking provision at present.

Finally, let’s all pretend we’re not bothered that Commercial Street already has a higher level of HGV traffic pollution than just about any other street in Edinburgh, according to the Friends Of The Water Of Leith Basin.

Instead, let’s just face up to the ugly truth that the arrival of a Co-op in Dock Place will kill Leith Market stone dead. The fragile but classy deli-cafes like Relish and Domenicos will see their trade decline too. (Look what happened to the independent Asian newsagent and grocer on Bernard St, two months after Sainsbury’s Local opened across the road from it.)

Leith Market has been up and running since July 23, 2015. This Saturday it celebrates its first birthday and there’s a lot to celebrate.

While the Chief puts sunshine on Leith, there’s no better place to be on a Saturday. Often as not there’s a busker jangling a 12-string or somebody pumping gentle reggae beats out of a couple of old bass bins.

As you get closer to Dock Place, you start to follow your nose. Is that Greek souvlakis from Cafe Cupi on Leith Walk? Toulouse sausages? Hot paella? Vegan Alpine dumplings? Ooh, and that smells like a crusty loaf just out the oven! There’s a baker’s dozen different styles of bread so fresh you’re eating it before you’ve paid for it.

It’s a happier adventure than wheeling your wonky trolley round Tesco because at Leith Market you can discuss exactly what you’re buying with the people who make it. And if it’s food or drink, they’ll twist your arm up your back to make you taste it there and then.

Are the traders friendly? Put it this way, when Zsuzsa and I started Leithers Don’t Litter, the first people to give us vocal support and practical help were Beth Berry and Tina Moffat, the Leith Market management crew.

They offered us a free stall so we could give people badges and hypnotise them into picking up their rubbish.

But Beth Berry is worried now. She doesn’t trust the Co-op or the council. “I suspect the Co-op put in for planning permission knowing full well they didn’t actually need it. I think they did this to attract objections to their unnecessary planning application.

“Over 1000 people petitioned against the planning proposal and 78 official protests were lodged on the council’s own website. This was a distracting technique that worked a treat.

“Later we found out that all they needed to proceed with their plan to open in Dock Place, was an alcohol license. The council told us we couldn’t transfer our 1000 petition signatures and 78 official council website objections to the alcohol license.

“ ‘You may not oppose an alcohol license after it has been granted’, they said. As for our 1000-strong petition, the council have told us repeatedly that it ‘doesn’t exist’.”

The Co-op like to think they’re superior to other big grocery chains.

In their TV commercials and on their website, they proudly proclaim that they have loftier morals than the other supermarkets.

Of their values they say this: “In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.”

At the bottom of their list of Principles you will see this: “Concern for Community: co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities.” If that’s what they really believe, they’ve got a funny way of showing it.

What is there to love about the Co-op’s own food and drink offering? Well, in 2015 they won The Sandwich Convenience Retailer Of The Year, sponsored by the British Sandwich Awards.

The same year, in the Frozen Meal Accompaniment category, they won a Special Award for their Microwaveable Golden Vegetable Rice Bags.

That’s the kind of local gourmet delicacies you’ll be able to buy if you allow the council to get its own way

If you’d like Leith Market to survive and prosper, please write to the council today and register your objection in the strongest possible terms.