ASDA has recently been putting surveys around the Selly Oak and Weoley Castle area about plans for two supermarkets. ASDA are asking for public opinions on two sites: one in Selly Oak opposite Battery Retail Park and one in Barnes Hill, in the Weoley Castle area.

Under close examination the Selly Oak option looks highly suspect as a viable project. The planned supermarket would be opposite Battery Retail park, which already has a supermarket onsite and has approved planning applications to redevelop the area. So its very unlikely that the Council would want to allow another development in the area. In contrast, the Weoley Castle area has no nearby supermarket neighbours just a thriving local shopping centre.

When you to look at the plans of Selly Oak they are not well developed with the car park not clearly defined and some car-parking spaces not even big enough for a mini! Also in the plans are triangular retail units – not really practical for a viable shop. There are no plans for a petrol station or recycling facilities in the Selly Oak plans whereas the Barnes Hill these have all been planned and laid out as well as proposed road changes.

So why are ASDA asking the local community about these two proposals? To make residents and Councillors feel like they are being given a choice, thereby backing the Council into a corner and making the council feel obliged to allow the Barnes Hill project. I argue that if they present two plans, they have a better chance of getting the Barnes Hill supermarket than just presenting it as a standalone application. It is not a choice of yes or no, it’s either one site or the other.

There have been other supermarket sneaky tactics happening around the UK for the developers to get what they want. In Birmingham we have seen a lot of these tactics. At the Swan Centre in Yardley the plans for a new Tesco were passed by the City Council but at the last minute the plans where adjusted to allow them to build on an area of the local park opposite for extra car-parking. As this was a last minute change the council allowed it as they needed some development at the Swan and if they delayed it again, it would mean that the area would be further delayed in re-development. In Hodge Hill, playing fields were not allowed to be used for football matches for years so that the land can be considered as less important as a community facility and therefore open it up for development. Local residents there are still campaigning to save their children’s playing fields despite the Tesco plans having already been approved by Birmingham City Council.

I think we have to stop the march of the supermarkets as its going to kill off the High Street. The supermarket power and monopolisation of the food sector results in the closure of local shops and this has so many implications:
– On the local economy, rather than creating jobs, they result in fewer jobs overall once local shops have closed. Supermarkets employ fewer staff per square metre of retail space they own.
– Supermarkets take money away from the local economy. Research by the New Economics Foundation found that every £1 spent in a local shop is worth four times more to the local economy than every pound spent in a supermarket. Local shops typically invest far more in the local economy than big businesses with shareholders and suppliers abroad.

You only need to go out to the now moth-balled Maypole shopping centre to see the damage a supermarket can do to a local shopping centre. We have to join together to show our Councillors that we are not prepared to allow huge superstores that do not have local interests at heart to come in and dominate our communities.

Mary Horesh