Tesco in Frome? Meeting 1 Dec 2010

Frome is a delightful market town.

I lived there for ten years in the 1980s bringing up small children and working as a National Childbirth Trust (NCT) teacher.

A bunch of us set up the Frome NCT playgroup, while another bunch of us – the West Country Childbirth Group – founded the birthing room in nearby Bath.

Back then, there was Safeways (only one) and a cattle market every Wednesday in the market place.

Now the cattle market has moved out-of-town and Frome is awash with supermarkets.

And now Tesco has plans to invade of Frome’s historic Saxon Vale.

Whaaaat? Another unwanted soulless hypermarket in this precious town with its thriving Artisan market and independent shops?

There will be a public meeting on Wednesday 1 December 2010 at 7.30pm at the Cheese and Grain in Frome.

John Harris, Guardian journalist, will be speaking at the meeting.

[PS He wrote brilliant article published 1 December 2010 and pledged at the meeting to fight Tesco and plot positive alternatives added 9 Dec]

The very successful Transition group, Sustainable Frome, will be involved.

I will be talking about what I have learnt from the No Tesco in Stokes Croft campaign.

Kevin McCloud of Channel 4’s Grand Designs will speak from the floor.

Too big Tesco

If you Google the two words: Tesco + Stop, you will see how many UK towns are using valuable energy trying to stop supermarkets, such as Tesco, destroying the fabric of their communities.

I am not against the odd Tesco supermarket, and I am certainly not against anyone who shops in Tesco.

But I do object to aggressive empire-building from food corporates with the power to overrule the wishes of councils and communities.

What do you think?

(Pic of Cheap St, Frome, from Wikipedia)

<h3>Update – added 9 December 2010</h3>

Over 300 locals attended the meeting and many people spoke, the vast majority directed at the developer, Quentin Webster, representing St James’s Investments Ltd.

The mood was overwhelmingly anti-Tesco and pro-local character and shops.

Quentin Webster took it well.

Halfway through the meeting, Quentin Webster said publicly: “I hate Tesco. I do.”

Publicly, I asked him why.

He said: “They are immoral as developers.”

He added St James’s Investments was a tempering force on Tesco.

And John Harris was a funny, acerbic and heart-stirring speaker.

10 responses to “Tesco in Frome? Meeting 1 Dec 2010

  1. Pingback: Tesco launches mobile version of its Direct site | The News of World

  2. Hi – I have edited this post slightly since I posted it on Sunday.

    I have reduced the personal info, changed the title and also shortened it.

    There is SO much to say about Tesco’s bad points.

    But if I start listing too many, it overwhelms the post.

    Less is More.

    Now isn’t that a great strapline for a supermarket WITHOUT ambitions for global domination?


  3. Thanks Elisabeth, for continuing the good fight. I remember when you were living in Frome, although at the time I didn ‘t realize it was a small market town, because you were living outside it, and I only saw your house!
    I am so fed up with the spread of homogeneous Euro cities and Euro towns. They’ve taken the character out of everything. It’s disgraceful.


  4. Thanks, yes.

    Corporations’ drive for profit on a huge scale destroy diversity on many different levels: the character of a place but also the possibility of local food systems right through to the diversity of vegetable and fruit breeds.

    At least 80% of our food are controlled by four supermarkets.

    This is not healthy, to my mind.


  5. If it does go the way of needing Tesco’s money to develop the site (which I think is how a lot of these decisions are ultimately driven) then how about a new approach to protect local businesses and the character of small towns against the localised monopolies…

    I’d love to see Tesco challenged to produce a broken down version of their store, into individual units on a standard(ish) street layout, but interspersed with “real” shops.

    This is not the Clarks Village “outlet park” style where other national stores are bought in, as this doesn’t help the diversity or character loss.

    Tesco could still have a central depot on the site, to keep their business model more or less in check (delivering to their individual shops from the depot daily), but they would have to compete, not just on price and the “all under one roof” strategy, but with the huge diversity and the quality independent products we have in the town.

    This model might actually benefit everyone. Any national store involved would get a “real” feel for what people want rather than just offering something almost impossibly cheaply and when people buy it saying “well that’s what the people want”. That way we might even see (shock horror) some character (at in terms of product ranges) even within the realms of a supermarket.

    I’d hope it might also free up local store managers to choose to run local product ranges themselves using local suppliers rather than national distribution leading to greater understanding between the chain store and the local economy and community.

    I guess what I’m advocating is prevention of localised monopoly by removing the both the teritorial domination of a large store, and the “under one roof” convenience(*) aspects of a supermarket to increase competition & diversity.

    I also think the design of the plot should be driven by architecture largely in-keeping with the character of the town centre, and ideally using local architects for the project to help ensure this is achieved.

    I’d also hope there would be something other than a car park lining the river this time, maybe some shops and cafes & ideally some public green space so locals and visitors can enjoy a break from shopping on the river front.

    (*) supermarkets might argue that reducing convenience would damage the interestes of the consumer.

    I’d argue that while this is true, I would find shopping in a supermarket a lot more convenient without:
    the torrade of in-store marketing,
    the unclear pricing and complex offers making product choice by price rather complex,
    additional packaging,
    store layouts with impulse buys more prominent than essentials.

    Yet they do all of these things for a good reason. It promotes sales, increases shelf life and protects the interest the company.

    For these same reasons, local economies should protect themselves from localised monopoly, even if there is a perceived reduction in convenience to the consumer next to a standard supermarket.


  6. Hi Elizabeth,

    I share your concerns regarding huge megastores but at the moment the proposals for Frome appear to comply with the comprehensive development plans for the site which I was directly involved in at Mendip District Council. It may be that the developer will continue to comply and we may again have a reasonable sized food store in the town centre, which is now sadly lacking. See my report on the Frome People community site here – http://bit.ly/eYp4h1. Sustainable Frome and the Civic Society are keeping a close eye on proposals.


  7. From my understanding the developer is coming to listen to our concerns. At the moment they are not proposing a huge foodstore – see their website where they say;
    “Plans include a 40000 sq.ft anchor supermarket 500 car parking spaces and an additional 40,000 sq.ft of multiple comparison retail as well as leisure, art facilities, civic uses, local artisan studios and an adult learning centre.
    SJI are currently consulting locally with various local interest groups, interested parties and town and local councillors, out of which designs are emerging based on local desires and concerns.
    The saxonvale regeneration has the potential to facilitate a step change in frome and through comprehensive design facilitate a new vibrancy to the town centre.
    SJI are determined to make the scheme as sustainable as possible.”

    I’ve been involved for the last ten years in the detailed proposals for this site (formerly as Regeneration Officer for Frome) and have put some background info and written a detailed report here – http://bit.ly/eYp4h1. Their proposal at the moment seems to conform with the planning authorities brief for the site, where we certainly need a medium sized supermarket.


  8. I am concerned that Katie appears to be taking the developers word for things and, by the way, 40,000 sq ft plus 500 parking spaces is not small by any standards. It is widely known and documented that major developers pay lip service to consultation and then ride roughshod over a community’s expressed wishes. A good example of this, which Katy will be aware of, is the way that the widely agreed aspiration for a new ‘public square’ to be focal to the Saxonvale development was diminished to a tiny wedge of open space overlooked by multi-storey buildings by the previous would-be developers of this site. Fact is, you can’t trust these people and it is right to be suspicious and sceptical.


  9. I forgot to say – whether you trust developers or not, if you’re in Frome tonight (1.12.10) do come to the Cheese & Grain at 7.30pm and hear what they, Elisabeth, John Harris of the Guardian, Kevin McCloud and others have to say. And have your say, of course.


  10. Hi Duncan, I left a message on your phone, hope you got it. I don’t trust developers in that way and sceptical is good. The last developer, Terramond, we battled against and I’m glad they’ve retreated. But we have to look at what is offered and be critical of it, and at the moment we seem to have no information about the offer other than the statement on the potential developers website and a verbal comment on 500 spaces, which I agree is too many, if true. So I’m looking forward to seeing the proposal in drawn form when it is available. If it complies with the brief it will be good for the town. We need to make sure the planning officers and councillors hold fast to the principles of the brief.


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