Big Sainsbury’s, small Llandeilo: a contested superstore planPosted: July 24, 2011
The room upstairs at the Angel Hotel in Llandeilo would be large enough, thought the members of Transition Town Llandeilo who organised the meeting. Twenty, 30, 40 people would be no problem. On the night, July 21st, the room was crammed, people standing at the back and crowding the doorway. Difficult to count, but I reckon well over 60 people, in response to notices in public places, came to discuss Sainsbury’s application to build a superstore outside this small town in east Carmarthenshire.
The press were invited but as far as we know they did not come. Sainsbury’s was invited but did not come. To be fair, the meeting was organised at short notice – Sainsbury’s application was received by Carmarthenshire County Council only on July 4th 2011.
The store would be BIG in relation to Llandeilo. Council figures for 2007 show the number of electors – adults aged 18+ — in and around the town as 2,281.
Sainsbury’s expects the store to take £26.1 million a year (at 2009 prices), a figure in Appendix E, Statistical Tables, of its ‘retail assessment’ of the likely impact of the development. That figure suggests the company is looking far beyond the town for customers, as £26.1 million from the town’s adults works out to over £11,400 each, which is crazy, especially in an area of fairly low private-sector wages and where the public sector, often offering better pay and conditions, is suffering cutbacks.
The rural hinterland, a dozen miles or more to the west and north of Llandeilo, up to 20 miles to the east, and maybe five miles to the south, contains about 8,500 households and approximately 15,000 adults, at the typical ratio of 1.75 electors per household. When we add children, and using the UK ratio of a total of 2.4 persons per household, we come to 20,400 people. This is probably an overstatement for east Carmarthenshire, because the population is elderly and many pensioners live alone.
Nevertheless, £26.1 million divided between 20,400 people is £1,279 each. So if every single man, women and child living in some 550 square miles of the pastoral countryside around Llandeilo came to the grand total of 20,400 and they spent £1,279 each in Sainsbury’s, the store would achieve its annual target £26.1 million (which by the end of 2011 is likely to have grown to about £28.5 million, allowing for inflation).
People would not have much cash left to spend in the existing shops, which are nearly all privately owned. Llandeilo and Llandovery, which is a dozen miles to the north-east, are historic towns with quirky shopping streets.
Back to the meeting. One or two people wanted to hijack it for their own agendas, and a couple could not grasp the concept of enabling everyone to have their say, but thanks to the expert facilitator the meeting stayed on track. The local county councillor, Mr Ieuan G Jones, was present. He said, a little oddly I thought, that he had not been trained to comment on planning issues. His expertise is, it appears, education and children’s services, for which he chairs the ‘scrutiny committee’. (The council is like a mini country, with a cabinet chosen by the leader, and committees that are supposed to scrutinise the decisions of the cabinet, which is called the ‘executive board’.)
It soon became clear that many people in the room wanted to object to the plans, but also that objections are valid only if they relate to technical matters such as the physical suitability of the site and the impact on highways, or to errors in the application itself. There were many worries that the hard-surfacing of almost seven low-lying acres next to a stream, on the upstream side of Llandeilo, would increase the rate of water run-off and worsen flooding downstream, on the floodplain of the river Tywi. Traffic is another issue. The roads in east Carmarthenshire are narrow and winding. The main road through Llandeilo is already a trial for pedestrians and vehicles alike, with frequent blockages and jams. The fate of the existing main food stores, the Co-operative supermarkets in Llandeilo and Llandovery, is also a concern, as is the impact on community ventures such as the shop in nearby Dryslwyn.
The plans show a store with sales area of 2,391 square metres, plus a petrol station with 12 filling positions. The total retail space would be nearly five times larger than Llandeilo’s Co-operative supermarket, and almost three times larger than the Co-op in Llandovery, which is where I often shop.
In the upper room at the Angel, a few voices spoke in favour of the greater choice of products that they thought Sainsbury’s would bring. One person argued that the store would increase job opportunities, although I think new jobs would be offset by job losses in the shops unable to survive on the crumbs of the retail cake that Sainsbury’s would leave them.
The meeting had a definite outcome, as it was the catalyst for the creation of a group to oppose Sainsbury’s application. This may come as a surprise to the retailer, which carried out a public consultation in February and March 2011, and reported that 60% of the town’s traders were in favour, as were 83% of the 562 members of the public who returned feedback forms after a two-day public exhibition (in truth, many more than the number who squeezed into the Angel, although several might have responded differently to the consultation if they had appreciated how BIG the development would be).
The event at the Angel was also billed as a ‘People’s Assembly’, a forum for people to exchange views and to listen to each other. I think this is a great concept, but the thoughtful people who promote it will need patience and persistence to counter bellicose, partisan cultural traits that inhibit real debate.