Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Supermarket Harborough

The most important decision Harborough District Council took while I was a member - more important even than building the town's leisure centre - was to allow the redevelopment of the cattle market in Market Harborough.

I supported this move, which was controversial, because I hoped that by allowing a major supermarket to be built there (it turned out to be a Sainsbury's) we would prevent one being built near the new by-pass and thus keep shoppers in the town centre.

And it worked. Market Harborough town centre has remained prosperous despite the economic downturn. New supermarkets have arrived since Sainsbury's - Aldi, Lidl, Waitrose - but they have all been built close to the town centre.

Today comes news that Tesco wants to build a large new store on the site of the old Focus DIY store on Rockingham Road - away from the town centre and close to the by-pass. The Harborough Mail has the full details.

I hope it does not go ahead.

It's not that I am a rabid opponent of supermarkets. I do a lot of my shopping in them and believe that Market Harborough is thriving because it has a good balance of national chains and small local shops.

When I was a councillor more than one older voter told me that in the 1950s and 1960s the old town council had done its best to keep supermarkets and new business out because councillors feared they would force up wages. Such was the dominance of the town shopkeepers on that council that I can quite believe it.

But that was a long time ago and the balance of shops Market Harborough enjoys today can easily be destabilised. And if there is a large supermarket in Rockingham Road then the people who shop there may never see the town centre at all.

People are asking whether Market Harborough needs another supermarket. But these national chains know there business very well and I suspect this new store is aimed chiefly at the people who come into Market Harborough to do their main weekly shop. I find it hard to believe that the people who live in the pleasant new houses that  ring Corby, for instance, shop in that town.

So a new supermarket in the Rockingham Road will keep those shoppers out of the town centre and away from all the other shops. Far from creating jobs, as is claimed, it may end up destroying them.

The only good thing about a new Tesco going ahead would be that I might see one of my ambitions for the town realised. The current small Tesco on The Square is housed in a nasty 1960s building that is unworthy of that setting. It would be lovely to see it pulled down and replaced by something better.

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