Friday 16 November 2012

Llandeilo - will the leopard change its spots?

Sainsbury's decision to pull the plug on its plans for a large new store in Llandeilo is a PR disaster both for the supermarket group itself and for Carmarthenshire County Council, which gave it such enthusiastic backing.

West Wales is one of the last remaining blanks on the Sainsbury's map, and it became clear that the supermarket group had ambitions in the area when it acquired the former Somerfield store in Lampeter after Co-op found itself with two supermarkets in that town.

Lampeter was never going to be a lone outrider for long given the way supermarket distribution networks operate, and the store group was soon busy with plans for a large new store in Cardigan. The proposed supermarkets in Cross Hands and Llandeilo would have been two more dots in the supply chain.

The surprising thing was always the scale of the proposed supermarket in Llandeilo, and the supermarket group itself was telling the truth when it recently described the proposed development as marginal. The truth was that a store on that scale would have struggled, and it would inevitably have had to suck the lifeblood from existing businesses in town to make the sums add up.

Even more questionable was the county council's decision to support the application in the face of the evidence.

Both Sainsbury's and the County Council invested a lot of PR capital in this exercise, and both have ended up with egg on their faces. Sainsbury's now looks like a petulant bully, and the collapse of the plan has dealt a further blow to the integrity of the council itself.

The council leader, Kevin Madge, finds himself under investigation for his part in the press release scandal, and there will be more calls for a root and branch inquiry into the workings of the council's planning department. What is now very clear is that the arm's length relationship which ought to exist between the quasi-judicial functions of the planning department and the council's executive has long since broken down.

Plaid Cymru summed things up well in its comment on the decision when it said,

It is clear the Council’s executive and Sainsbury’s are unhappy with their actions being scrutinised. The decision to withdraw the planning application indicates serious flaws in the planning process and disdain for planning legislation.

Sainsbury's has also been having a torrid time over its much delayed plans for a large new store in Cardigan. The plans met with strong local opposition, and after millions were spent preparing the Bath House site, the store group recently had to acknowledge that it was still trying to sort out problems with the stability of the land.

Just like Llandeilo, the proposed Cardigan store is too large, although unlike Llandeilo Sainsbury's will find itself competing for business with Tesco and Aldi. Tesco put in plans for a large store extension as soon as Sainsbury's showed up, and so Cardigan can expect the two groups to slug it out, most likely at the expense of the town's independent retailers.

That will be a great shame because Cardigan has been transformed in recent years, partly thanks to Ceredigion County Council but also partly thanks to the efforts of a number of local initiatives, such as Pwllhai. The result is that civil society is alive and kicking in Cardigan, whereas over the border Carmarthenshire's top-down, Big Brother approach views local initiatives with contempt and a distraction from the real business of doing mega-deals with Mega Bucks Inc.

Perhaps the most interesting comment yesterday on the Llandeilo fiasco came from Simon Buckley, chief executive of Evans-Evans Brewery, who was quoted by Robert Lloyd on his blog here.

Mr Buckley, who has fought hard on behalf of local businesses throughout the Sainsbury's saga, said:

I now challenge Carmarthenshire Council's chief executive Mark James (and the other senior officers in the council) to meet with me and other employers in the area to discuss what the council can do to support us.

I would hope that they would be able to offer a similar level of support to that which they (the council) showed in backing the Sainsbury's plan.
But can the leopard change its spots?


Anonymous said...

Is it not true that Big super markets knock spots off pay, pensions,Terms of endearment and Disabled access. The pavements not wide enuff to many steps into buildings. Llandeilo does not fit the Concervative Demographic it once held and quite possibly it will turn itself into a ghost town .

Anonymous said...

Very interesting that Mr Buckley has so much to say about other people's businesses - having had the misfortune of doing business with him I suggest he should concentrate on looking after his own empire and leave the council look after Llandeilo.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Sainsbury's needed an excuse to withdraw. The expansion plans date from the pre-austerity years. Now it's clear that we are going to be less affluent for a very long time, mega retailers need to trim their capital expenditures too. Llaneilo has a different but bright future.

Anonymous said...

It now looks more like a painfull rear entry . A by pass will now take just about all the trade and foot fall from the streets and Mr Buckley ( allready changed his own pubs to gastro pubs as no wet trade worth going on about ).
It seems more a call for help from Mr Buckley as he has by the sound of it really shafted people.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon @18.30 I don't know Simon Buckley, nor have I done business with him, but what struck me about his role in this campaign was that he has been a passionate advocate for Llandeilo even though his business would not have been damaged by the supermarket. I don't think he was acting out of self-interest.

I can also see why many local people would have welcomed a supermarket - perhaps if Sainsbury's had gone for a more modest development, the result would have been different.

Anonymous said...

Oh I think you will see that he is acting out of self interest . Just do a Freedom of Information Search about 8 years ago to see if certain businessman wanted to sell land to a certain supermarket. Or that a certain business wants a bottling plant on a land adjoining Beechwood having been turned down by CCC & Environment Agency for existing site . Perhaps we need to ask him were is long suffering wife does her shopping - not Sainsburys but ever little helps !!!

Anonymous said...

interesting how both the journal and the guardian broke the story. No analysis by the journal, and the laughable suggestion that it would create 250 jobs! more analysis by the guardian and a synopsis of why the WG turned down the application as it would have a negative effect on the indigenous businesses.