Friday, 3 December 2010

Clone town Brighton - the latest chapter

Regular readers of this blog will know that this is a line I have used before, but the simple fact is it keeps being true!

Clone Town Britain took another step closer to kooky Kemptown this week with the eventual closure of the Taj shop on St James's Street  - and rumours that Sainsinsbury will move onto thew site.

If they do, St James's Street will boast one Sainsbury, one Morrisons, one Tesco and one (currently being extended) Co-op all in the space of about 200 metres.

That'd be absolutely terrible for the street - and the wider community. Consumers would have less choice (they all sell pretty much the same range of branded goods as each other), local businesses would suffer (not only from the inevitable rent rises but also the ability of multi-national superstores, with deep pockets, to undercut them until they go bust), visitors to the the city would have no reason to visit the area, and it would look just like every other shopping street in the country.

But it's hardly a surprise. The last Government (that's right, when Labour where in charge) oversaw the biggest increase in chain store domination of the British High Street in history, presiding over a system of tax breaks and hidden subsidies (remember, Sainsbury's largest shareholder, David Sainsbury, was a Labour peer!) for the retail giants. And when Labour ran Brighton Council they adopted the bizarre retail study claiming we needed supermarkets as big as NINE Churchill Squares around Brighton and Hove.

Remember  the campaign to prevent Starbucks replacing the local firm 'Sussex Stationers' a little further up the street? It was Government intervention that overturned the locally determined (democratically) planning rules that would have prevented the new store.

And as for the current Tory council! Well, don't get me started, really. They have refused steadfastly to implement their own licensing rules which are supposed to stop new off licences and supermarkets with off-license sections opening up in the area (the so-called 'Cumulative Impact area in which there is supposed to be a presumption against granting any new license application). They are cutting cash for community development work, and have even undermined the city's Business Improvement District scheme.They don't spend as much time, money or effort promoting businesses in the area as they do elsewhere in the city (just look at the fiasco over the fact that Christmas lights have to be funded by American Express and Starbucks in a desperate bid to buy some good publicity!) - they're happy to promote car-based out-of-town shopping centres and ever more supermarkets on 'empty' sites (like the community garden in Lewes Road) - indeed their primary line of defence against Clone Town Britain seems to be a few faintly xenophobic sounding 'Be Local, Buy Local' stickers.

Meanwhile the Chief Constable of Sussex Police Martin Richards and Tory East Sussex County Council leader want to close police stations and house coppers in supermarkets in an increasingly desperate bid to save cash in thee face of Government cuts. The mind boggles.

It's no wonder the retail giants are winning, really, and local people, independent traders, and the 'feel' of our communities are losing. Roll on the May election.

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