It has come to our attention that there are many misconceptions amongst Mole Valley councillors about the proposed Sainsbury's superstore in Dorking and its perceived benefits to the town and wider area. Notwithstanding the logistical problems associated with areas like traffic and the construction period, we would like to give our views on these misconceptions.
MISCONCEPTION: The new supermarket would be good for the local economy
The following figures are from the recent All Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group report. This report was compiled by Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs who took the trouble to look into this matter in detail.
The report states: "Without the widespread existence of local businesses, money will be drained from local economies. Studies show that 50% of turnover from local retailers is returned to the local economy. Large retailers may return as little as 5% to the local economy." (p56)
Numerous small businesses rely on local stores, such as the following examples (in no particular order): local food producers, window cleaners, accountants, builders, decorators, plumbers, electricians, printers and stationers.
Large supermarkets almost always source these services from outside the local area; therefore the impact to the local economy of a large store extends far beyond the High Street.
The report also states: "Many skills present in UK economy will be lost if specialist independents are no longer able to survive." (p56)
"Newsagents, non-symbol group grocers and bookshops are likely to become increasingly rare features of our high streets" (p59)
Examples of the effects of supermarkets in recent decades are as follows:
MISCONCEPTION: The new supermarket will create more jobs
Although supermarkets create jobs, in reality the jobs lost as a result of the impact on other businesses will far offset those jobs "created" by the arrival in town of a new superstore.
At present the supermarket chains control more than 80% of the grocery market and yet they employ only 50% more staff than small shops, who control the remaining 20%. The simple conclusion is that small shops are better for employment than having a superstore.
MISCONCEPTION: The new supermarket will increase the number of shoppers visiting other stores
Once the supermarkets get their foot in the door they will use their position of power to do everything to get the shoppers never to stray far from their shop. By selling non-food items them will be in competition with a good number of other established shops in Dorking. The MP's acknowledge this in their report.
"The use of knowledge and power can manifest itself in a number of ways. With the decline in the number of new out-of-town developments, large supermarkets are focusing on edge-of-town developments to get around what they perceive to be restrictive planning policies. Although planning authorities believe this should widen the retail provision, the retailers are using edge-of-town sites to aggressively compete with the high street employing tactics such as ensuring free car parking is time restricted so consumers are unable to use other shopping areas." (p42)
MISCONCEPTION: The planners will look in detail at the proposal
The planners and planning committee may go through the motions, but the supermarkets are experienced in running these campaigns and know exactly what buttons to press (such as the sham of including some affordable housing) to achieve their only objective of making more money. Once again the MP's report on councils' seeming inability to defend themselves and their towns against the supermarkets.
"A lack of understanding and a lack of resources have created an environment where large retailers are able to strongly influence the decisions of local authorities. For example, councils have relied on section 106 to secure funds from large retailers to address the lack of affordable housing for people. In return the retailers gain planning permission for new developments which otherwise might not have been approved due to the anticipated damage to local economies." (p42)
MISCONCEPTION: Supermarkets are cheaper
Supermarkets exist to make money. It is their primary purpose and their only criterion of success in the eyes of shareholders. The shops tend to "fool" consumers by offering low prices for popular items, and make money on other items bought once customers have been enticed to their stores. When the competition have been killed off, the supermarkets are free to raise their prices. Most of the supermarkets have "regional variations" in their prices, in reality often to reflect the strength of the opposition.
The report states:
"Supermarkets do not offer the very low prices perceived by consumers because of the use of headline prices on known value items (KVIs)" (p56)
MISCONCEPTION: The consumer will have more choice
This may be true in the first weeks and months of the new store. But as the existing stores fold the net effect is very little choice, other than travelling to similar large stores in neighbouring towns which offer near identical lines.
The reality is that choice and true diversity only exists amongst the smaller shops.
MISCONCEPTION: Town centre superstores are good for the environment
Although town centre superstores are marginally less harmful to the environment than out of town stores, the supermarkets' practices of sourcing food from all over the world (often unnecessarily) and transporting it enormous distances within the UK from regional warehouses have a hugely detrimental effect on the environment.
To quote the All Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group report:
"The loss of small shops will continue to contribute to pollution, congestion, accidents and noise. Food miles will continue to increase with potentially devastating impact on climate change."
MISCONCEPTION: We must not stand in the way of progress
Our present way of life is hopelessly unsustainable. In the coming years and decades major changes will have to take place in society to address the problems of climate change. Large supermarkets chains are part of the problem, not part of the solution and therefore are counter-productive.