Monday 17 September 2012

Supermarkets - Kev in the headlights

Rhodri Glyn Thomas, Assembly Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, has now challenged the leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, Labour's Kevin Madge, to a public debate on the Welsh Government's decision to take responsibility for the Sainsbury's planning applications in Llandeilo and Cross Hands out of the hands of the County Council.

Labour Party spin doctors will be frantically trying to come up with reasons why their man should not take part. Their problem is that (a) Kev does not have a leg to stand on, and (b) his communication skills make George Dubya Bush look like William Shakespeare. Perhaps the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments in the Human Rights Act may come into play.

As we know now, the main reason for the Government's decision to intervene was that the council's own retail consultants concluded that the two Sainsbury's stores would grab £36 million of trade from other businesses in the area, and it was not convinced by a plan cobbled together by the supermarket group and the council to restrict the stores' trading activities in order to reduce the impact on other businesses and jobs.

It is not unusual for restrictions to be placed on supermarkets as conditions of planning permission, as for example happened with the Tesco superstore in Carmarthen. It is invariably the case that the supermarket groups apply to have those restrictions lifted once they are up and running, so that within a few years they end up with what they wanted in the first place.

Readers can decide for themselves how sincere Sainsbury's was when its spokesperson claimed in its joint press release with the council that its plans had received "overwhelming support" locally. The council might have liked to ask Simon Buckley, the chief executive of Evan-Evans brewery, about that.

The Sainsbury's spokesperson also claimed that both Llandeilo and Cross Hands were marginal locations, giving the impression that the supermarket group was only doing this out of the goodness of its heart. You have to wonder why, if the two locations were so marginal, Sainsbury's found itself able to promise to trade at 80% of capacity.

As Plaid has also noted, Lord Sainsbury is the largest single private donor to the Labour Party.

If, despite everything, Kev does agree to brave a public debate, it will be interesting to test the strength of his claims that the call-in is putting plans for a new school, doctor's surgery, etc. at risk. 

There are strange echoes here of the troubled Bath House development in Cardigan, where after years of controversy and twists and turns, local people are still wondering when they will get the new cottage hospital promised as part of a development involving, you guessed it, a Sainsbury's supermarket.

Anyone wanting to shop in Sainsbury's Cardigan, which was supposed to be up and running by now, will find only a large expanse of bare, and apparently unstable, earth. For reasons which we can only guess at, the expansion of the town's existing Tesco supermarket which was meant to have coincided with the new Sainsbury's, also now appears to be on hold.

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