At a time of economic difficulty, when local citizens and entrepreneurs are struggling to make ends meet, we are faced with a situation where real changes need to be made regarding business models and financial distribution. Whilst supermarkets have, for a long time, been viewed as a cheap and desirable alternative to local retailers, given that their profits are siphoned away from the local communities that support them, it seems timely to bring about a reversal of this destructive cycle. This comes in addition to the many environmental problems that are linked to major supermarkets (1).
In Birmingham many of our local community centres are under threat from new supermarkets being built. Asda are putting forward a planning proposal for a new store in Stirchley, to the overwhelming lack of support and apprehension of local residents (2). Fortunately, there is still an opportunity to influence this decision at the Stirchley Neighbourhood Forum on Monday 13th June, 7.30pm (Stirchley Community Church, Hazelwell Street); the 40,000 sq. ft superstore would substantially alter the landscape of the area and drain resources from local food suppliers. With an Ethiscore of 0/20 (3), and the knowledge that only around 5% of business turnover by supermarkets is returned to the local economy (4), it seems reasonable to be concerned at the prospect of yet another Asda in the Birmingham region.
In what appears to be a particularly beleaguered area, Tesco have also gained planning permission for a major food development on Hazelwell Lane. Nothing can now be done about the destruction of the Working Men’s Club and Community Centre, but there is a real chance on Monday to prevent any more expansion of supermarket car parks in Stirchley.
South Birmingham entrepreneur Tom Baker, who runs a bakery and cookery school in the area, is currently running a blog which gives some insight into the opportunities and practicalities of buying from independent stores. He highlights the sense of community that can be gained from supporting local suppliers, so it’s well worth a read.
It is worth remembering that in 2009 alone, 12,000 independent shops closed down. On the other hand, large corporations with little accountability to local people are flourishing. This includes supermarket retailers such as Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrison’s and Tesco, which have continued to gain ground at the expense of less powerful suppliers.
Food is one of our most basic needs – and where we choose to buy it affects our economy and way of life massively.
The ‘Big 4’ have taken up almost 90% of all retail development given planning approval in the past three years. This cannot be good for consumer choice, by any stretch of the imagination. Importantly too, it does nothing to promote local businesses and food producers (i.e. the local economy), and has been shown to have very damaging consequences for the environment.
On a national level, Friends of the Earth are running a campaign to ensure that the government keeps a strong policy supporting town centres and controlling out-of-town development. It is vital that we do everything we can to curb the devastation of our high streets and halt the march of the supermarket. Please click on this link to contact your MP and help shape the Localism Bill. The way that local people and businesses interact with each other and benefit (with better job prospects, fewer environmental damages in terms of packaging waste and pollution) depends on you.