I know that there is nothing that can keep an independent retailer up at night more than the thought of Tesco, Sainsbury or Morrison opening up a new convenience store next door. Unfortunately it’s happening to more and more retailers, only recently we have heard of the Blockbuster and Jessops stores that will soon be opening as Morrison’s convenience stores. These companies are aggressively pursuing sites hoping to take advantage of the growing convenience market.
It’s also a worry because retailers so often feel powerless to stop them. There is no doubt that a supermarket has to jump over far fewer hurdles to establish a convenience store than they do a big supermarket. They can often buy an existing store, or convert an existing retail or pub building, where they do the ability of the planning system to control this can seem frustratingly limited.
Some, especially pub campaigners, believe that we should impose blanket national restrictions stopping the supermarkets getting planning permission for new convenience stores. However I fear that company specific rules they envisage are unrealistic; and any halfway house, that seeks to impose a national rule limiting what you can do to convert a small shop premises are likely to be as harmful to independents as they are to multiples.
The answer that ACS has long argued for is to give more power to local people to take control of their areas. We believe that every Council or Neighbourhood Forum should have the power to adopt diversity policies relating to the retail mix of their high street or parade. This approach would allow communities to have their say without imposing a one size fits all restriction on bringing defunct buildings back into use. As a result, supermarket convenience stores would only go where the community wants them, and a positive bi-product would be fewer sleepless nights for retailers uncertain what the future may bring.