SUPERMARKET SWEEP: Council must face up to the invasion of the grocery giants

Written by on November 13, 2013 in Letters, Opinions, Uncategorized - 13 Comments
Copyright bgcartooons.com

Copyright bgcartooons.com

On the eve of the opening of Tesco’s uber “hub” in Streatham, Brixton Hill resident and campaigner Andrew Child takes a look at the great supermarket invasion of 2013.

Twenty-two supermarkets and counting! That’s how many big-name supermarket stores there are within walking distance of my Brixton Hill flat. How do I know that? That’s right – I painstakingly went onto each of the supermarkets’ websites, inputted my postcode to find my local stores and plotted all within a mile radius on a map here.

Anyone who knows me from the Save George IV campaign may wonder what I’m still doing obsessing about Brixton’s supermarkets. The campaign to stop one of Brixton’s most iconic pubs being turned into a Tesco was lost, right? End of story.

Campaigners at a meeting against Tesco last year. Picture by Brixton Blog

Campaigners at a meeting against Tesco last year. Picture by Brixton Blog

Putting aside persistent reports about almost non-existent trading at Tesco’s latest Brixton outlet there’s still much to play for. If you’d asked me to guess at the figure for local supermarkets before I sat down to calculate it I’d have said 15. To have arrived at a figure of 22 is shocking to me…as is seeing my flat encircled in this manner on the Supermarket Saturation map as I’m choosing to call it.

Why does this matter? Well, part of the reason is that getting on for half of these supermarkets have sprung up – fungi-like – in the last couple of years or so. A rapid acceleration, I think you’ll agree. I’ve therefore no reason to suppose that this will level off any time soon, not with the supine council we have in place at the moment at any rate.

The effect of this was well-documented by the Save George IV campaign: independent traders squeezed and forced out of business, much-loved pubs turned into ugly gunmetal grey retail battleships and the character of the local High Street destroyed. And don’t even get me started on the pitiful part-time sub Living Wage jobs the big supermarkets boast of. Or the hard-earned money spent by locals sucked out of the local economy by the big supermarkets and instead put into the pockets of overpaid executives and shareholders.

Tesco Express opens in Loughbrough Junction on Friday. Picture by Craig Murphy, used under Creative Commons

Tesco Express opens in Loughbrough Junction on Friday. Picture by Craig Murphy, used under Creative Commons

A map of the 22 supermarkets Andrew Child found within a mile of his Brixton Hill home

A map of the 22 supermarkets Andrew Child found within a mile of his Brixton Hill home

I won’t try to deny the supermarkets’ assertion that this expansion has a degree of support – though I didn’t see anyone signing a petition in favour of turning George IV into a supermarket. Having monitored forum debates on the issue on Brixton Blog and elsewhere it’s clear that there’s a minority who have been sold on the supermarkets’ false promise. In particular, there are two big myths which need challenging and debunking if we’re to make progress on this issue:

  1. Brixton’s Supermarket Arms Race is good for consumers and good for the local economy.
  2. Lambeth Council wants to do something but is helpless.

The first of these needs to be dealt with at some length. The most common assertion relating to supermarkets is that they deliver on choice, price, and convenience. If you go into your Sainsbury’s Local, I challenge you to see how many separate value items you can find. Not many is it? And if you buy a jar of say Marmite there it’s going to be the same price as in the superstore? Pricing is uniform, right? Wrong, as this report by Confused.com makes clear. In other words you’re twice penalized for not being able to afford to travel further to the bigger stores. No cheap versions of food and to add insult to injury you pay a “local” price premium. Ah, but they’ve got those space-age automatic checkouts that make shopping a breeze. You’ll be done in no time. Except if you want an item from behind the till, or you’re buying booze or paracetamol, or the re-useable bag you’ve brought along isn’t recognized. In all cases the poor, underpaid person behind the manual checkout has to close it and come over to attend to you. No sooner have they gone back, someone else has a problem with an automated checkout. Familiar story isn’t it?

Contrast all this with my corner shop: I can get fantastic bargains, like a wheelbarrow-sized bag of rice for a couple of quid; I can have a chat with a real person about football, cricket, the state of politics…and if there’s a queue I can leave my change on the counter and walk out with my shopping. Now that really is express. Furthermore, because I’ve spent money with a local business it stays in the local economy.

In essence, the big name supermarkets take from, but give very little back to the local community. It is for that reason that I want communities to have a much greater role in shaping the future of their local High Streets. It would be the democratic thing to do. The sort of policy that a cooperative council might pursue perhaps? After all, it seems to be an issue which unites both Left and Right.

Well, good luck finding any mention of the supermarket problem in Lambeth Council’s Draft Local Plan – the very document that is supposed to give shape to the future of our local communities. Brixton’s problem is the problem on just about every other High Street in the borough. And it is a problem that sooner or later will have to be faced head on.

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About the Author

Tim Dickens is co-founder of Brixton Blog

13 Comments on "SUPERMARKET SWEEP: Council must face up to the invasion of the grocery giants"

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  3. I live up brixton hill February 24, 2014 at 12:55 pm · Reply

    The idea that the George was an iconic pub is just ridiculous. It wasn’t anything of the sort. It was mainly a place for people to go after being chucked out of he Dogstar and where they could vanish into a K hole until mid-morning on Saturday. It then became a music bar that nobody ever went to and then sat essentially unused for months. It was not an “iconic” pub. It was a complete dump that nobody ever went to.

    That said, I do agree that there are a stupid number of supermarkets in Brixton now and it’s true that the Tesco Metro that went into the George is pretty much “Moscow c. 1987.”

    But please—no more of this misty-eyed, romantic nonsense about a decrepit old juicer that nobody ever went to. As Tesco is now finding out, it’s just a very bad spot.

  4. Jon November 15, 2013 at 4:38 pm · Reply

    As much as I want to support the local shop, most owners have done little to move with the times and offer city-residents what modern shoppers want – convenient food, well sourced, organic, and affordable. A very hard balance to get right and unfortunately only viable at large scale. But no one is even trying… Step inside most corner shops and you have mostly fags & booze, with milk, bread no one wants to eat, snack food (mostly crisps) and week old veg that’s been sat outside on a 24/7 busy A-road. Never have I been able to cook a meal form the ingredients I find there, and would never risk buying what some pass off as convenience food. Frankly they’ve failed to move with the times, and business that do not adapt simply die-out. Sure you can use the market and go to the butchers, the fish mongers, the bakery; it’s fantastic, but not if you’re working. I want to grab a good oven pizza and a beer as I head home at 8pm, and pick up some some milk, bread, bacon, eggs and beans for the morning. I don’t see anyone but the supermarkets offering this?

    As the population density in places like Brixton goes through the roof due to nearly every house being converted to flats, there is no one else providing busy working people with what they need on a scale that is needed. As much as I hate supermarkets, you cannot fault what they offer. I would love to see an independent shop offer late opening, large volumes of great food people actually want, but we have spent the last half a century creating a farming, manufacturing and supply chain that does not favour the small-scale business model any longer.

    I would love to see someone try.

    • Mark November 18, 2013 at 7:22 am · Reply

      Agreed the only places offering a decent choice are the supermarkets. Its the same all over the world. That is why they are some of the most powerful companies in the world. They are smart and they have a grip on YOU! If you want to protest and abstain unilaterally, then fine go ahead. But don’t think the council for God’s sake, or even the government, would dare do anything to oppose them. They need them, and I am afraid, whether you like it or not, so do most of us.

  5. Stephen Forpe November 15, 2013 at 12:58 pm · Reply

    I think the point of George 1v being in its death throes is true but that is because of cheap alcohol in supermarkets, To protect our heritage and stop us all from becoming crazy neurotic individuals; we need positive action from Government to preserve pubs, so that people have a place to go and mix with their fellow residents. But, because our present Governments worship Capitalism; then this aint gonna happen; because basically all they want is a complient population who will feed the Machine; that is earn money and spend it so that a few idiots can increase their profit margin.
    Instead of saying supermarkets are good because the building would be derelict otherwise….look at the bigger picture, there is another world out there that can be so much better.

  6. nyron November 15, 2013 at 11:26 am · Reply

    Is the new Morrisons opposite Sainsburys Local on Clapham High Road within the radius I think it probably is So thats 23

  7. Ed November 15, 2013 at 11:23 am · Reply

    It is slightly worrying, especially the second Sainsbury’s opening in Brixton only a couple of 100m for the other one.

    However, having lived on the Clapham Park Estate for the last 8 years the Tescos & Sainsbury’s there are fairly welcome.

    Before there were no free cash machines anywhere near and the shops on New Park Road are okay for somethings but also over charged for quite a lot of stuff. Having free cash machines with these supermarkets surely help some local shops & pubs.

    Also not having a car you end up paying £2.80 to get the bus to shops further away.

    I don’t see these as competition to the market as the markets always going to be cheaper for meat and fruit & veg etc.

    Finally if the George IV had been able to survive as a pub then fair enough but it had been going through its death throws for a good few years. Better to have it open and attracting people as a supermarket than being derelict I think.

    • Alex November 15, 2013 at 8:08 pm · Reply

      With all due respect, you don’t know what you are talking about. George IV was everything but derelict, I came from abroad and that use to be the place where I use to go to get good music, drinks, and where I met most of my of friends. Not every place which is not making billions have to be called derelict

  8. redfidelio November 15, 2013 at 10:55 am · Reply

    Absolutely spot on. Brixton has always had loads of excellent independent food and household goods shops and, of course, the market. We don’t actually need the big supermarkets at all – except maybe one for people who really need to use their cars and/or buy large quantities.

  9. Pete November 14, 2013 at 10:32 am · Reply

    You might be interested in the piece of work I recently carried out on behalf of Transition Town Brixton looking at the benefits of the local food economy.available here.

    http://www.reconomy.org/evaluate-the-economic-potential-of-your-new-economy/

    We’re forming a working group within the Lambeth food partnership dedicated to increasing locally owned food businesses so please get in touch if you’re interested in getting involved.

  10. jk November 13, 2013 at 3:55 pm · Reply

    Morrisons and Waitrose are welcome.

  11. Al November 13, 2013 at 3:19 pm · Reply

    A few more on the way:
    – New Morrisions on Acre Lane, new Sainsburys at Clapham North

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