Ledbury Sainsbury’s

Well, it would seem that Ledbury is again to be attacked by a massive supermarket chain in the form of Sainsbury’s.

The day Tesco’s application to build a new superstore on the Ledbury Welding site was withdrawn, Sainsbury’s application to build next door to that site, on the current Galebreaker site, went in.

For background information on the Sainsbury’s plan it’s worth going to their Ledbury specific website. The gist of it it that they want to build something ever so slightly smaller than Tesco had planned, but with a filling station too.

So, will it be approved?

Well, that to me seems unlikely but you can never tell. The main reason I believe it is unlikely is for the same reasons that Tesco’s proposal would have been rejected if it had been considered by Herefordshire Council (the application was withdrawn the day before it came before the planning committee).

The report by Herefordshire’s Principal Planning Officer, Roland Close, on the Tesco application is available here. It’s a very interesting document and well worth reading through.

Tesco made some fairly obvious schoolboy mistakes, it would appear, that affected how well received their proposal was but ultimately there are three main issues that led to Mr Close’s recommendation for rejection of the application:

  1. The size was not appropriate for Ledbury given the population, even taking into account the likely increase over the next 15 years when 800 new houses are built, and taking into account improvements in retail provision elsewhere in the county (especially the Cattle Market development in Hereford)
  2. The location was not appropriate; it could be seen as a destination in its own right which would more than likely adversely affect the viability and vitality of Ledbury town centre. This would be a big deal; Ledbury has many historic premises in town and the effect of this could lead to a reduction in the finances available to maintain those premises leading to possible deterioration of their structure.
  3. Tesco had been rather lax in the presentation of the “Sequential Assessment” in which they are required to describe their selection of site and justify reasons why they can’t build in town and at the edge of town. Mr Close has, in my opinion quite rightly, stated that Tesco’s have failed to fully address the possible redevelopment of their current site in Orchard Lane and has provided an outline plan that, if it were put in place (and approved) would lead to a more appropriate and sustainable sized store on that site.

So what is different with Sainsbury’s plan?

At the time of writing the detailed plan is not available on the UK Planning Portal as it has not been accepted yet but, based on their outline plans and PR exercise it seems that very little is different.

Sainsbury’s clearly have no existing edge-of-town store to consider redeveloping but Mr Close, in his report, identified another possible site that Tesco could have considered in their plans but failed to address fully. It will be interesting to see if, and how, Sainsbury’s have addressed that. The site in question is currently a car park (by the swimming pool) but for a reasonable sized store it would be necessary for Sainsbury’s to buy up a number of nearby buildings and merge them all in to one.

Other than that the plans appear to be quite similar which means two of the major issues that could have been expected to cause Tesco’s plan to be rejected (size and location) remain appropriate to the Sainsbury’s proposal. In fact, the size issue is even more appropriate to their proposal since, in Tesco’s case, the Orchard Lane store would have closed. In effect the Tesco plan would have resulted in a net increase of 2000sqm of retail space whereas the new Sainsbury’s would result in an additional 2787sqm! Almost 40% more than Tesco.

There are a number of other issues that Mr Close’s report addresses, including the use of land the other side of the viaduct (where Galebreaker plan to move to), but it’s definitely worth reading to understand the justification for recommending rejection and it’s difficult to argue as to why that should be any different for Sainsbury’s.

But surely Ledbury needs a bigger store?

Does it? This is an interesting question.

There’s a campaign on Facebook supporting the Sainsbury’s plans because some people do think that; in fact, they have their own ‘LESS’ website which is fairly analogous to the website of the group dedicated to campaigning against out of town superstores.

However it should also be mentioned that a number of those objecting to an out of town superstore believe Ledbury could sustain something bigger than what we already have. The difference is that these people believe it should be in a location, and of a size, that is appropriate to the size and population of Ledbury, and which remains complementary to Ledbury’s town centre. It is clear from Mr Close’s report that Tesco’s plan certainly does not fit that bill, and Sainsbury’s plan seems so similar to Tesco’s that it’s difficult to see why that would be any different.

I’d like to address a couple of claims made by the Ledbury Supports Sainsbury’s group.

Ledbury’s Population Has Increased By 3100 in Two Years

On the 12th October 2011 at 16:09 a comment was made (item 25) on the Ledbury Portal stating:

Even the report that Herefordshire County council says Ledbury only requires another approx 1,000 sqm of retail space fails to recognise the increase in population since the 2009 count (2009 – Population 9,900, 2011 – Population 13,031) if that trend continues then in the next 2 years Ledburys population will be at ~16,000 so by 2015 Ledbury ALONE will have a population of ~19,000 people, that does not include the growth throughout the HR8 district.

It has been shown in the rest of that thread that the claim is spurious and nonsense. The 9,900 is based on Herefordshire Council figures but the 13,031 comes from potential newspaper circulation figures based on the population over 15yrs old in Ledbury and the surrounding area. So a comparison of apples and oranges it would appear.

In fact, if you do look closely at the Herefordshire Council figures you can see that there’s been a slow, but steady, decline in Ledbury’s population since mid-2007 so not the population explosion the LESS representative group would suggest!

Ledbury Is The Fastest Growing Town In Herefordshire

There is a common argument that Ledbury’s growing and continues to do so faster than any other Herefordshire town. The source of this is Table 5 in a report from Herefordshire Council which shows Ledbury’s population increase between the 2001 Census and the mid-2009 estimate being 7%. The figures provided here though (the same spreadsheet as in the previous section) show that the growth peaked in 2007 and since then has, to some extent, reversed (approximately a 1% decline in the 3 years to mid-2010).

Ledbury’s Population Will Increase by 3000+ In The Next Two Decades

This is based on the approved plans for 800 new homes to be built in Ledbury between now and 2026, at a rate of around 40-50 homes a year. So, by 2026 there will be 800 new households in Ledbury. At a claimed 3000+ total that means the average household size in the new homes, assuming the household size remains the same in the rest of Ledbury, will be 3.75. An interesting claim, especially given that this government report forecasts that the average household size in the UK will fall to 2.16 by 2026. Even ignoring the possible reduction in the rest of Ledbury as a result of this it still means that the claimed 3000+ is more likely to be a little over half that figure (1728).

Ledbury Has Survived Intrusion From Supermarkets Already

This claim has been made a number of times in a number of forums. Yes, Ledbury continues to thrive despite Tesco and Co-Op building in the town (or at the edge of the town). It’s fairly clear to me why this is; neither of those stores dwarf the town and its population, and they never have. They’ve been aligned to the needs of Ledbury and their location encourages people to use both themselves and the town centre allowing the town centre shops to be complementary and to compete. The proposed plans are for stores three times the size of the current Tesco store and is aimed to attract custom from the other supermarkets in the area. Neither is aimed at just addressing the needs of Ledbury; they both want to attract shoppers away from Morrison’s in Ross-On-Wye and Malvern, and Waitrose.

Why Would People Come From Malvern To Shop?

This question is asked when it’s pointed out that additional traffic, from the Malvern/Worcester direction, is likely to come through town if a superstore is built. It’s commonly pointed out that Malvern already has numerous supermarkets including Morrisons, Waitrose, Lidl, Co-Op, Iceland etc so some people don’t see why shoppers should choose to go to a Tesco or Sainsbury’s superstore instead of what they have locally.

I believe there’s a good reason why they would; preference. It’s clear that not all supermarkets are created equal. There is a preference hierarchy where a trade-off between perceived cost and perceived quality (both of goods and the “shopping experience”) is made. If we look at only the big 4 (Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda) there is, as far as I can tell, the perception that Sainsbury’s and Tesco are superior to Morrisons and Asda, with Sainsbury’s a slightly higher than Tesco. A little above the big four is Waitrose; perceived as good quality but relatively expensive.

So I believe there are people who would choose to shop at either Sainsbury’s or Tesco in Ledbury in preference to Morrisons or Waitrose in Malvern.

Isn’t Additional Traffic Through Town Going To Benefit Town Traders?

That’s difficult to say and nowhere near as clear cut as it may seem. To some extent, if parking is convenient and it’s perceived as safe for pedestrians to wander around, then it could be seen as an advantage. Unfortunately though there comes a point where there is too much traffic (and too little parking space) and pedestrians find it difficult getting around. I personally believe Ledbury’s already not far off that point at its worst; additional traffic through town could tip the balance.

Sainsbury’s Will Create 220 Jobs

In fact Sainsbury’s claim “up to 220 new full and part-time jobs”. Sainsbury’s are, quite rightly from a PR point of view, announcing the maximum number of jobs that will be created but there are a number of issues with this.

  • They’re not likely to all be full-time jobs. While this is potentially good news for people who don’t want full-time jobs or can’t manage full-time work due to other commitments, you have to balance that against the potential for job losses that may occur in other local retailers and suppliers. While jobs are important, there is plenty of evidence including a report commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland that suggests an out of town superstore will not have a net beneficial effect on employment in the area due to losses from other retailers and their suppliers. No one can say this is definitely going to happen in Ledbury, but it’s certainly a major risk.
  • There is evidence that the number of jobs advertised by large superstores prior to construction/opening are not made available once the store is opened. A particular example is Tesco in Accrington where Tesco claimed to be creating 450 new jobs and only took on 191 people. There is also evidence on a larger scale that the number Sainsbury’s (in particular) claim to be creating many new jobs yet employee numbers fell between 2009 and 2010.
  • Tesco’s figures for an equivalent sized store were 200 full and part-time jobs based on 125 existing jobs and 75 new jobs. Given that Tesco’s application was recommended for rejection based on their overestimation of the sustainability of the new store, it would seem that, if Sainsbury’s were to be approved, we surely must expect job losses at either Tesco or Co-Op in addition to those potentially lost from independent traders and their suppliers. In the worst case, if Tesco decided to pull out of Ledbury, that’s 125 jobs lost straight away; a significant proportion of Sainsbury’s “up to 220” jobs.

The gist of it is that it’s unreasonable to expect all the publicised jobs to be created, and we must expect jobs to be lost elsewhere.

We Can’t Get Everything We Need In Ledbury

I would question the use of “need” in that statement but there are some essentials, in particular the provision of cheap children’s clothing, that Ledbury is devoid of. This could be addressed in a number of ways including someone taking the initiative of opening a shop in town to sell cheap children’s clothes. Unfortunately I’m aware of one person at least who has considered this and found the rental of in-town shop units to be prohibitively expensive for that kind of retail.

A possibly better solution would be for Tesco to sell part of their range and this could easily be done if Tesco were to proceed down the route suggested by Mr Close in his report and re-developing their current site.

Sainsbury’s Are Providing A Cheap Petrol Station

What Sainsbury’s actually state is:

A new petrol station is included as part of the proposal. Sainsbury’s reviews its petrol and diesel prices regularly to ensure it always provides customers with great value and is competitive locally.

The point to note here is “competitive locally”. That doesn’t mean the petrol will be as cheap as, say, Sainsbury’s in Cheltenham where fuel seems particularly cheap. There is evidence (although I can’t find a link at the moment) that the supermarkets price their fuel at a level they think the local people will pay. Quite often you will find that supermarkets are only slightly cheaper, if cheaper at all, than the other local fuel stations. As far as “competitive locally” goes, I suspect that means they will look at the price of fuel at the Jet station in the Homend and at the Q8 station in Parkway and set their prices based on those and little else. I believe that, while they may end up selling “cheaply”, this will only be on a local scale.

I also have some concern that, in doing so, they will price the Parkway filling station out of business leading to inconvenience to the residents of Parkway who’ve only recently had any sort of fuel station/convenience store made available to them.

There Will Be More Choice

In the short term, yes, there will. In the long term that remains to be seen as it’s possible, if local independent traders go to the wall, there will be no choice other than to shop at Sainsbury’s.

The other thing to remember is that a store designed to service 25,000 people will have to be bigger than a store designed to service 12,000 simply due to the fact that they will need to have higher stock levels of each item.

It seems obvious to me that a store designed to an appropriate size for the population of Ledbury would not need anywhere near the amount of shelf space that is required for a store designed to support e.g. Hereford, even if it were to stock an equivalent range of goods, and therefore need not be anywhere near as big. This is simply because the stock levels required for Ledbury would not match those needed for Hereford.

So what happens next?

Clearly I believe the current Sainsbury’s plan is not appropriate for Ledbury so I think it should be rejected. I’m certainly not naive enough to believe that, now that Tesco have withdrawn their application, that is the end of things. Nor am I naive enough to believe that the Sainsbury’s plan is our only option.

I am firmly of the belief that a larger supermarket could be supported by Ledbury without significantly damaging trade in the town centre, but not one in the location that both Tesco and Sainsbury’s planned, and certainly not one of the size they have planned.

I believe that, given Mr Close’s report, the best thing that could happen is that Tesco take on-board what he has suggested and put more effort in to analysing how they can redevelop their current site to best support the community. I personally would be unlikely to object to something along those lines.

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