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Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Does Carlisle have too many supermarkets?

On the face of it, a new supermarket in Carlisle could be a good thing. It would give the west of the city what the north and east already have, it would raise money for revamping the Sands Centre and – most importantly – it could mean 250 construction jobs and 442 permanent staff jobs.

John Reardon photo
John Reardon, Green Party

But how many customers would it attract? Carlisle is already well-served by major supermarkets, from Asda at Kingstown and Morrison’s on Scotland Road across the city to Tesco at Rosehill. When Sainsbury’s opens a store at Caldewgate the “big four” grocers will all be here.

And now Carlisle City Council is considering offering the 12-acre site between Wigton Road and Ellesmere Way to a supermarket chain. They will have to make their decision on Friday but planning officers are recommending that they vote in favour.

Some say big supermarkets are just what we need to pull us out of recession. Nationally, the big four are expected to create 28,000 new jobs, while the Co-op has plans for 300 new stores – and 7,000 new jobs – by 2013. The British Retail Consortium has described the sector as “the engine room of Britain’s recovery”.

But the smaller grocers in the area won’t see it that way. Billy Bone owns the five Foreways convenience stores in Carlisle – and three of them are in the Morton area of the city, close to the proposed site.

“I don’t think Carlisle needs another huge supermarket,” he says. “It is a concern because it’s something else that’s taking another slice of the cake.

“But the big chains are like giants taking over and you are powerless to stop them. The convenience sector has dropped quite dramatically, and small businesses will be squeezed because at the end of the day you can’t compete.

“You’ve just got to keep doing your job and do it to such a standard that your customers will stay loyal.”

John Reardon, the Green Party councillor for Upperby, agrees that a new supermarket will damage the smaller shops. And he also questions whether Carlisle is big enough for another major store.

“There is the context of jobs, and that is really important at the moment,” he says. “But my immediate reaction was: how many large supermarkets can the city sustain? There’s a limit.”

Supermarkets import much of their produce from overseas – and so are often blamed for “food miles”, the pollution generated by transporting it.

He adds: “What we really need to be doing is supporting local food production. Why fly flowers in from South Africa or apples from Morocco and Spain when we can grow them down the road?”

If small and medium-sized local businesses go under in the face of competition from the giant chains then a supermarket will mean jobs lost as well as jobs created.

“Strong local businesses are important, but nobody seems to be speaking up for them at all.

“There’s no loyalty to the local area from the supermarket chains – but that’s what the smaller local businesses have in spades.”

Large supermarkets on the outskirts of towns are often feared by town centre stores, but David Jackson, commercial director of The Lanes shopping centre, is not worried – though like Mr Reardon he wonders whether Carlisle really needs another big food store.

“Any new jobs in and around the city are to be welcomed, there’s no question about that,” Mr Jackson says.

“But I would be surprised personally if it went ahead. We are getting the new Sainsbury’s and Asda are taking over Netto, so we will end up with two Tescos, two Asdas, Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s and the Aldi-Lidl scenario.”

However the big supermarkets will have done their sums and carried out their research, and he points out: “Building a new store would be a multi-million pound investment. None of these companies are going to make that kind of investment without a fair level of confidence that they are going to get a return on it. If they think they can make it work, who are we to stop them?”

And the city centre will remain buoyant, he feels. whether the supermarket comes or not.

“A lot of major retailers would like to be in Carlisle – Primark has long wanted a shop in Carlisle. And there are others who are here now but want more space.

“There is a lot of demand for the city centre to grow again.”

Suzanne Caldwell, the enterprise development manager with Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, also argues that the supermarkets would only come here if they were confident of making money.

“They will have done their calculations. If they believed that we had enough large stores already they wouldn’t be coming here – they would be looking at spending and development elsewhere.”

Nor do major supermarkets necessarily harm smaller shops, she adds. “There is the argument that if people are coming into the city to do their supermarket shopping then they’ll also visit the other shops here. And it will be great to see extra jobs.”

So maybe a new supermarket in Morton would get plenty of customers, from outside the city. That is what villagers in nearby Dalston are afraid of.

Bryan Craig, chairman of the local parish council, fears a major supermarket will take business away from Dalston’s smaller shops. But the prospect of yet more cars and lorries thundering through the village is also a major worry.

“We have a cafe, two pubs, a gift shop, a butcher, a baker, a sandwich shop, post office, dispensary and a Co-op,” he says. “It is possible that this and future developments which are in the pipeline may have an effect on their sustainability.

“I must state that I am in favour of a supermarket on the south-western side of Carlisle and I support some additional housing in this area. But I am concerned that traffic and road safety issues will continue to increase.”

Have your say

Excellent Dave. Bustling yankee businesses with three Wall-Marts around San Francisco. You could say similar about some French locations where they protect small traders but their again some may have Hypermarkets...

Posted by Royl on 10 November 2012 at 12:49

Carlisle Council has already made it known that it has entered into a 'landswap' with tesco for the land by the aldew river between the two car parks it owns, upper and lower viaduct.

The only single reason this can be is because they have already decided to sell the land to Tesco.

Posted by TB on 10 November 2012 at 12:02

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