Calls for tighter controls on ‘local’ supermarkets

Alison Johnstone, second from left, with supporters of the supermarket petition at parliament. Pic: comp
Alison Johnstone, second from left, with supporters of the supermarket petition at parliament. Pic: comp
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FEARS the city is being swamped with supermarkets has sparked calls for tighter planning constraints to halt their spread.

The move could see Sainsbury’s and Tesco have the cumulative floorspace of their stores taken into account before being granted permission to open further outlets.

The suggestion has been put forward in a public petition to the Scottish Government calling for a changes to national planning laws.

It follows growing concerns that the number of supermarket chains in the Capital is about to be pushed beyond “saturation point”.

Figures compiled by the Scottish Green Party show, per head of population, Edinburgh has the highest number of Sainsbury’s and Tesco local stores of any city in the country.

More than 50 stores – 28 Tesco Metros and 25 Sainsbury’s Local stores – will soon be trading in the Capital, working out at one store for every 8667 people.

Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian, said the march is killing Edinburgh’s unique identity.

“We all use supermarkets,” she said. “But Sainsbury’s relentless takeover of Edinburgh will do lasting damage to the character of our city. They won’t just be here for a while, they will shape our streets and neighbourhoods for decades. The situation in the south of Edinburgh has gone beyond saturation point.

“There are some great independent shops around, but every identikit chain store makes it harder for them to survive. Groups like Dig In in Bruntsfield and the New Leaf co-op in Marchmont are creating alternatives but they won’t thrive without a more level playing field.

“I despair that for so many years, national and local politicians have failed to change the rules that allow this expansion to go unchallenged. We need to tip the balance in favour of distinctive high streets, but the big political parties are unwilling to act boldly.”

The problem is thought to be especially apparent in South Edinburgh. In August last year, Marchmont community council spoke of its fears of a “supermarket creep” when it emerged that beloved store Margiotta was to be taken over by Sainsbury’s, despite an existing Scotmid store positioned only yards away.

Anne Laird, then chair of the community council, said: “It’s becoming a supermarket creep. Marchmont community council can’t do very much because as a planning decision it’s a change of hands and not something we can object to.

“If there was a planning decision that affected the area, that might be something we could challenge.”

Sainsbury’s has also opened similar small stores in Bruntsfield, Morningside, West Port, South Clerk Street, South Bridge, the Meadows and Fountainbridge over the past few years, with more set to open. A planned store in Earl Grey Street in Tollcross will be trading just metres from Sainsbury’s existing Morrison Street store, while a new Sainsbury’s in Causewayside will begin operations a stone’s throw away from Tesco Express.

Tollcross community council secretary Ann Wigglesworth said the group was “very concerned” about the situation.

“The backbone really went out of our local shops when the big supermarkets started coming in, but the addition of all the smaller stores is only making things more difficult for independent retailers,” she said.

Ms Wigglesworth highlighted the ability of chain retailers to obtain alcohol licences as a “main concern”.

“The over-saturation and effect on local shops is bad enough, but one of our main concerns is the pressure these large chains are able to exert when it comes to obtaining alcohol licences.

“Even if we object and they are refused the first time, they just appeal. There are too many off-sales already and even more will do nothing to improve things.”

In May last year, the Evening News revealed that 19 formal objections lodged by NHS Lothian to applications to sell alcohol in the city had been all but ignored, with licences eventually granted on every single occasion.

The ability of the health board to object to alcohol applications over health concerns had been hailed as a “new era” for licensing in the city, but it emerged that Jim Sherval, who was advising the city’s licensing board on behalf of NHS Lothian, had refused to attend meetings since November 2012, after the committee once again went against his advice and allowed alcohol to be sold in four new mini-supermarkets.

Ms Wigglesworth said that she would support the petition handed into the Scottish Government, which garnered over 2200 signatures, and has called for local councils and communities to be given more power to stop unwanted supermarket expansion on their high streets.

She said: “We’d like to see more controls placed over these big retail chains, which almost seem to have a monopoly. It’s almost impossible for a small shop to set up these days with all the pressure from the big boys.”

However, some high streets are already fighting back, with independent retailers in Portobello reporting no adverse effect to business following the controversial opening of a Sainsbury’s Local.

Local councillor Maureen Child said the arrival of the store had caused existing retailers to set up initiatives such as Positive Porty, encouraging locals to use independent retailers.

A Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said the number of new outlets was a reflection of a change in people’s shopping habits.

“Sainsbury’s investment in high street locations helps to increase the footfall and extend opening hours by giving customers what they want,” she said.

“Edinburgh is a thriving city and Sainsbury’s is proud of its long association with it. We are simply responding to a change in people’s shopping habits and tailoring our own business in this way.

“We have worked hard with groups such as Remploy to develop inclusive recruitment policies, and every Sainsbury’s store adopts a local charity in the area, with each store actively looking to make a positive impact in their community. Sainsbury’s is also proud to be the first major food retailer to sign up to the Edinburgh Guarantee.

“We strongly believe that our stores work well in areas with a strong shopping offer, and we complement other quality retailers by improving high street shopping for residents throughout the city.”

Community greengrocer set for Bruntsfield

A new greengrocers set to open in Bruntsfield today has vowed to fight the “supermarket creep”.

The committee behind Dig In was set up in early 2013 after it emerged that the local Peckham’s was to be replaced by a supermarket chain.

Community meetings had shown “a real desire among local people to re-establish a greengrocer in Bruntsfield” and local shopkeeper Karen Mackay joined forces with resident Hilary Hamilton and Green councillor Melanie Main to set up a formal steering group with the aim of making the community shop a reality.

Though not yet open full-time, the shop is generally manned on Saturday afternoons to give residents the chance to find out more and get involved.

A spokeswoman said: “The time has come to roll up our sleeves, get scrubbing and painting, and we need your help. We will be open today from 11am to 3pm.

“If you want to help, please come along and bring some clothes you don’t mind getting grubby.”