South Lakeland District Council have passed approval on a new, giant-sized Sainsbury’s supermarket in Kendal.
What does any small town need? Apparently, it’s a new super-sized supermarket that likes to ’round up the pound’ so that you’re not fiddling about with any small change.
Ye olde greye towne is a fairly bustling affair for a small one, with a strong summer tourist trade (the gateway to the English Lakes, don’t you know?), with lots of agriculture and building, and related trades.
It also has plenty of town centre shops and shopping centres, some chains, some independent. All is not well, judging by the host of charity shops that have sprung up in the very centre of town (lower overheads for them) but the place keeps rocking and rolling.
A bit-a background
Kendal is serviced presently by two very large superstores, namely Morrisons and Asda, one at either end of the town, and is subsidy-serviced by Aldi (for those who want good quality at a smaller price), Booths (for customers who like good quality and don’t care about the price), and Iceland.
According to Wikipedia, Kendal has 28,586 people, which is about three-and-a-half thousand more than when I was a little kid (call it 30 years).
Morrisons came to Kendal around 1996, with Aldi close behind; and Asda followed around the same time at the other end of town. Booths has always been in the centre of Kendal, due to its smaller size (still serviceable).
It makes you wonder how those thousands of people survived before those supermarkets came to make it all so much more convenient.
Does Kendal need another supermarket?
Morrisons and Asda take the lion’s share of the customers, so you could say they’ve ‘supported’ the living of 25,000 people in the immediate area for around 20 years. Over-simplistically, that’s at least 12,500 people each.
That 3,500ish increase in the town’s population hardly justifies the need for yet another supersized supermarket, especially in close vicinity to a competitor. Is there any need to have some kind of staged battle for space and customers?
I understand that one of the ways in which the supermarket’s application has undermined common sense and political resolve has been by a claim that it will create 350 jobs. But, we know really what kind of jobs the majority of those will produce. 350 mainly unskilled jobs in a place that was considered the number 2 Best Quality of Life town by Edinburgh University 15 years back. (Harrogate was number 1).
That best quality of life translates into school achievement and aspirations, as well as through the affluence of the people who live there. Those 350 mainly unskilled jobs are not going to bring back the kids who leave for university and they won’t be useful for the ones that initially stay to work apprenticeships. The non-management wages supermarkets offer are between £6.71 and £8.00 per hour and those don’t provide opportunities any more than slavery does.
I’ve also heard anecdotal evidence of bully cultures in at least one store in Kendal, and the customer service in most of the grocery stores is hitty-missy at best, both of which suggest hitty-missy management. (Not in Booths, mind, customer service there seems to be unimpeachable).
Whatever the reason a job becomes unpleasant (bearing in mind that supermarket jobs are just service jobs, they’re not horrible jobs in themselves), the money has to be good to keep you. And the money isn’t good, which tells you that those companies don’t value their workers. If they leave, the company will just replace them.
Additionally, if there are 350 people in Kendal looking for no-skills-necessary work, that want to work, why do homecare and supported living companies struggle to recruit people?
A done deal?
According to The Westmorland Gazette (the minutes from the SLDC meeting are yet to be published) when the Council held the vote for whether or not to approve the planning application, the majority of the Liberal Democrats were absent. Five members missing. Those are the guys in charge, the ones that are supposed to be on the side of the people.
So here we have it. A planning application allowed through in a distinctive and mainly pretty medium-sized market town, offering 350 valueless jobs to service an unnecessary addition to the town’s grocery trade. In return we get more greenery paved over, more blank shop facades without character, and more car parks on the edge of town.
The follies of other towns subject to similar pressures
This has a precedent. Penrith has had a Sainsbury’s for a few years. It’s like the Marie Celeste of supermarkets, with few customers at any time.
Penrith didn’t need a Sainsbury’s and Kendal doesn’t need one now. The only reason this store wants to build a new outlet in Kendal is because it has to have some of its competitors’ market share. Anywhere Morrisons and Asda are, Sainsbury’s needs to follow. We’re saturated in supermarkets. Nothing to do with what’s good for the town.
Pray for a miracle
I wish there was a way to stop this from happening. A sensible, irrefutable way, like a councillor who discovers that the planning decision isn’t legal due to some forgotten but useful byelaw, or something suitably dramatic.
Unfortunately the event of a new Sainsbury’s is probably going to just happen, with an unsatisfactory hiss as it slides into reality next year. Building work for months will increase the traffic flow misery of Shap road, and Appleby road will need doing up before it gets tonnes of Shap road traffic. That bad traffic will migrate to the store’s entrance onto Shap road when it opens.
So thanks, whoever those councillors were who didn’t vote against this travesty. You just made it more unpleasant to live here. A sizable chunk of the north end of Kendal is about to become a desolate, pointless supermarket car park with an umbilical cord of an estimated 4,000 cars per weekday leaving and entering at all times and you did nothing about it.
House prices, anyone?!