Saturday, 19 October 2013

Planning debate on supermarket in Slaithwaite


On 17th October I attended the Kirklees Council Planning Committee to voice my opposition to a planning application for a large ALDI supermarket, with a car park with spaces for 90 vehicles, in the village of Slaithwaite in the Colne Valley. About 2,000 people have registered their objection to the proposal, about double the number of people supporting it. I was one of 19 residents speaking against the proposal, with eight people speaking in favour of it. Residents opposing the planning application made a compelling case that the road network is not suitable for the traffic that the supermarket would generate. Narrow roads, steep in some sections, would be unable to cope with the projected traffic increase and heavy delivery lorries. Pavements, already narrow, would be made even narrower in some places, making Slaithwaite unpleasant and unsafe for pedestrians, in particular parents with buggies and the elderly and disabled who have difficulty walking.

My personal perspective and reason for opposing the planning application is not as a resident, but as a frequent visitor. I live a few miles away, but am often in the village for business and community meetings in the cafes and also visit for leisure with my family and friends. The village is distinctive with many interesting buildings, and it is the starting point for walks along the canal and up into the hills. An ALDI store, the same prefabricated building as all the other stores, would not be in keeping with the distinctiveness of the local area. Furthermore, trees which provide an important habitat for bats and several species of birds, including skylarks and lapwings. I am surprised that the supermarket is even being considered, as the village is in a designated conservation area.

Green Valley Grocer
The Green Valley Grocer in Slaithwaite sells a great range of fresh produce

There is a cluster of small independent shops in Slaithwaite, and you can buy a good range of groceries at reasonable, competitive prices. For example, the Green Valley Grocer sells a great variety of fresh fruit and vegetables and provides a wide range of locally sourced products. This benefits the local economy, in contrast to major supermarkets’ lengthy supply chains. Indeed, the Green Valley Grocer sells not just local food, but ‘super local’, from within a five-mile radius. The shop is run as a co-operative, putting the long term benefits for its members above short term profits. This is the type of more equitable and sustainable business model, successfully weathering the global financial crisis, that needs to be supported.

E&R Grange Butchers has been in the village since 1990, and all their produce is locally sourced, supporting farms in the area. The Handmade Bakery, with a café, located on the canalside, provides wonderful quality fresh bread, with a policy of sourcing ingredients locally where possible. Bread of this quality is a rarity in the UK, where almost all bread that is available is industrially made using all kinds of additives like preservatives, emulsifiers and flour treatment agents. Like the Green Valley Grocer, the Handmade Bakery is a co-operative, and won a national co-operative award in 2010.

The New Economics Foundation 2005 report, 'Clone Town Britain' showed how the increased domination of large chain stores had hollowed out high streets, leaving them devoid of independent retailers. An update in 2010 found an escalation of these trends, and observed that some major retailers were ‘fair weather friends’, abandoning high street sites to migrate to larger shopping centres. ALDI is the fastest growing food retailer in the UK, where it already has 500 stores. With its rapid expansion it is snapping at the heels of the Big 4 UK retailers – Tesco, ASDA, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons. Advocates for an ALDI store in Slaithwaite cited the benefits of increased competition, but the bigger picture is that competition is reduced as the biggest supermarket chains increase their market share and dominance.

Independent retailers in Slaithwaite are engaged in community events and activities which make the village a lively cultural centre. Slaithwaite is part of Totally Locally, a network of towns and villages leading shop locally movement – promoting and supporting local shops, and organising community events to revitalise the local economy. This summer saw the second street market and Colne Valley local food festival with arts, crafts, dance and music. Many local businesses support the Slaithwaite Moonraking Festival. This biannual event attracts many locals and visitors for story-telling, puppet shows for children, and music and lantern workshops, culminating in a lantern parade lighting up the streets in the dark of a winter’s night. Slaithwaite's Moonraking Festival in 2013 was on the theme of time, these are some of the lovely lanterns handmade by residents.

Moon Raking Procession

 Moonraking event in February 2013

So much is at risk if a large supermarket is built in the area, there are already several within a short distance. Slaithwaite could become another ‘clone town’. I think that, instead, Kirklees Council should support the established local businesses and cooperatives which have worked hard to create a lively village centre. The existing retailers have been loyal to the area and kept going providing vital goods and services throughout the economic downturn. The Council could encourage more small businesses to the area, with support such as providing incubator space and training. This would help develop the established cluster of businesses which is improving the economic vitality and stability of Slaithwaite.

At the Planning Committee meeting, the chair proposed that the number of speakers would be limited to just three opponents and three supports of the planning proposal. Fortunately this proposal was challenged, and people’s democratic right to speak was asserted. After a debate of nearly three hours, the decision was deferred by a considerable majority. I intend to attend the next planning meeting when this application is discussed. After listening to the debate I am convinced that supporting independent retailers will benefit residents and other businesses in Slaithwaite, including job creation, and that this is preferable to a new large supermarket.This is the page on the Kirklees Council website where residents can register their objection, or indeed support, of the planning application, and make comments.

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