Tesco Town : Consultation Blues

Yes, I’ve been to the “regenerated” overheated Community Room 2 at my local public library in Hale End to view the fancy artwork and landscape model and debate with the ideologically-challenged young pups defending the new “plus size” Tesco plan for London E4.

It was depressing. All the usual Free Trade myths about choice, customer demand and how the multinational middleman corporation is taking its Energy Efficiency seriously. Despite trucking and flying food in from all over the world. And despite having an Energy footprint per square metre roughly six times that of a normal household, for all that chilling, lighting and heating.

I nearly walked out of the room when a wide-eyed suit who appeared to be barely out of his teens used the word “investment” in two different ways in two consecutive sentences, and didn’t realise the cognitive dissonance.

You know, “investment” as in “Tesco building a big store to capitalise on the spending power of the local economy” contrasting with “Tesco building retail and other facilities to enrich the local community”.

Yes, the scale model in the transparent plastic box looked clean and tidy with lots of toy trees. No, the model didn’t show any cars anywhere, neither on the roads nor travelling about the store. The computer animation showed a few cars, but they looked like healthy, non-lethal machines. So child-friendly !

Yes, people in this South Chingford area often travel out of the local centre to shop, but that’s because there are so many supermarkets and other large stores, and Walthamstow’s “Europe’s Longest Street Market”, already within striking distance by bus, rail, foot, bike and road, and really local retail outfits have lost a lot of business.

We used to have greengrocers, butchers, bakers, a shoe mender, even a photographic studio in the area. All gone. Coincidentally, much of that loss around the same time that Tesco bought the light industrial land they now want to build upon .

People moan about the quality and choice of what remains. All we have left are all-day breakfast cafes (1 excellent, 2 reasonable, 1 poor, 1 greasy spoon which the Police like to frequent on a Sunday morning), sandwich shops, 4 Indian restaurants (3 sit-down, 1 takeway), a gentleman’s hairdresser, a betting shop, 2 chemists, a Budgens, a Costcutter, 1 Spar, 4 newsagents-cum-convenience stores, a dry cleaners, a tanning salon, two florists, one funeral parlour, one alternative health therapist, one Chinese takeway, 3 fast food chicken, burgers and chip type joints, a card shop, a Post Office, a petrol station, an icecream parlour, a pseudo-Italian cafe, two charity shops, a fish-and-chip-and-kebab shop, a sit-down English restaurant, an Italian restaurant, 2 pubs, 1 contested thumping nightclub, a bicycle shop, the offices of the local newspaper…in fact, there’s quite a lot going on here, really.

I don’t get the argument that we need something like 6000 extra square metres of A1 retail floorspace. How do people get enough to eat at the moment ?

The big problem for me is that Tesco will compete with everyone else and could take away a large part of their business. I don’t mean “competition”, really, in the European Union Neoliberal sense, I mean acting as if they are parasites on the local economy.

Tesco wants to put in a very large store, with capacity that would virtually double the amount of retail floorspace in the neighbourhood. Clearly, they think they can employ strategies to attract sufficient business to justify their development plans. And a lot of it will come from the local area. And a lot more will come from several miles outside the area from other “catchments”. They admit that. That’s a clear admission that we don’t need a store this size.

My view is that what Tesco are planning will undermine local business, in order to attract market share to justify their “investment”.

This is not the first time they have tried to develop in E4. Their last plan was strongly contested, and with good reason. They’ve come back with a pretty similar plan in many ways, just with a few more affordable homes to be built on the side, seemingly as a sweetener for the Local Authority.

With each articulation of basically the same plan, there is an evolution of fancy “design elements” which is better than a TV comedy show.

Let’s pass over the decoration : for example the “Highams Green” public space at the very centre of the development, likely to be overrun by the local ASBO holders, as the store will probably be a 24 hour operation; and the treelined walkways, narrow, with nothing overlooking them, enough to scare people wanting to get around on foot at night; and the underground, or, God forbid, street-level parking for 350 cars, and the 130 projected new cars in the estate development with “shared use” walkways and car lanes that are long enough for a driver to speed up and cause collisions with pedestrians.

Let’s not contemplate the extra traffic admitted by the planners, and the fact that this will conflict with the operation of the level crossing, especially since there are plans to increase the frequency of the train service; especially let’s not consider the complete road gridlock from similar scale new development in South Woodford; let’s not address the promised “preferential rate” of the office space and small retail units that Tesco plan to build under their store at street level; let’s not go too far into the quality and scale of “community” facilities that the mega-corporation have dangled tantalisingly in front of punters.

Let us consider simply the basic “investment” here. The Tesco giant looks like it is planning to extract a large income from the wider local area. The net effect of this could amount to sucking the remaining vitality out of Highams Park.

If Tesco calculate that they can run the store at a profit, this means that inevitably they will starve other local businesses of revenue.

Despite the fact that there will be 300 “jobs” created at the store, the majority of the revenue from the retail operation will not stay in the area, and jobs in other local businesses will be seriously threatened.

This is what Tesco does, as a successful business. They do what other local businesses are doing and beat them at their own game. Since there are good florists here, what will Tesco probably do ? It will be likely to compete. Bargain bucket bouquets in Tesco foyers could take a lot of business from the florists. Because there is a petrol station opposite the newly planned store, Tesco could well sell fuel, and out-compete. Because there are cafes in the area, Tesco might think of running a cafe. Because there are chemists in the area, Tesco will likely expand their pharmacy range in-store. Because there are restaurants in the area, Tesco will probably provide a wide range of ready-packed microwave deli meals.

Tesco has an unfair advantage. Wherever they go they take the weight of their business capital with them, and totally dominate any market they enter. Shareholders will like this. I do not.

The Economic myth that Competition Creates Productivity And Innovation And Cost Effectiveness will not work here. Competition only works between players of similar sizes. Competition only works when new market entrants are permitted – and if a mega-Tesco gets planted here, there will most likely be no further opportunities for new retail players.

My opinion is that the planned store is too large for the area, and the store owners too well-versed at not only parting customers from their money, but parting other businesses from their former customers. Most of that money will leave the area (deduct the wages for 300 “trolley dolly” jobs from the total profits of the store). And all the new Tesco customers for cheap chicken, milk and bread will mean less customers for the local businesses.

If Tesco get the go-ahead to build in Highams Park, I would like Tesco to guarantee Fair Trade in the local area : explicitly avoiding product lines and costing strategies that would undermine local businesses. But I know that despite assurances, the evidence from other Tesco developments seems to show they are very unlikely to Trade Fair. The larger they are, the more they will need to compete with local businesses to survive.

I’m sure they’re too large for this town, and as they want to maximise their profits, pretty add-ons like nice brickwork and sympathetic landscaping and Renewable Energy will vanish.

The whole supermarket model is entirely dependent on the continuing availability of cheap Energy. That Energy is Fossil Fuel Energy. Despite assurance in their last plan that they’re going to have a “Renewable Energy Centre”, I’m sure this is one of the first things that will get dropped. Their plan showed a preference for Biomass Boiler plant – which would mean extra road traffic into the site : which would not be acceptable.

Hello, and welome to Tesco Town. In a few years time, all this will be yours, Tesco, as there will probably be very few other businesses left standing.

[ NOTE WELL : Nothing in this article is intended as factual statement about the Tesco corporation. The entire article is mere opinion about the effects of large supermarket development. This article does not claim to understand or know the intentions of the Tesco corporation. The personal opinions expressed in this article do not attempt to bring Tesco into disrepute. The writer of this article has no personal, stock or business interest in any supermarkets, including Tesco. ]

One thought on “Tesco Town : Consultation Blues”

  1. Hello Jo,

    Just found your article whilst trawling looking for Tesco articles. Your article sums up how I feel about the Highams Park development – well written.

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