Another day, another high street giant bids to expand into formerly uncharted territory.
If there is an air of resignation in some quarters about the plans by Sainsbury’s to open a sizeable new store in Wilmer Place, just off Church Street in Stoke Newington, perhaps that is because of the breathtaking chutzpah of Four Communications, the PR outfit in charge of consulting on the scheme.
Stoke Newington is not Lakeside, Thurrock. Its locals are notoriously protective of the independent character of their area, and while it is true that the high street is no longer virgin territory for major brands, it retains well stocked and affordable family-owned butchers, bakers, fishmongers and greengrocers.
The owners of some of these small shops fear for their livelihoods if yet another supermarket – this one will be slightly larger than the existing Sainsbury’s store just up the road in Stamford Hill – lands on their doorstep.
Four Communications must surely have been able to predict that there would be a almighty brouhaha about these plans, and yet its website boasts about how it helped a controversial science lab get the go ahead from planners in the London Borough of Camden “despite widespread and co-ordinated local opposition”.
What’s the point of having a consultation when the company holding it makes no secret of its joy at having defied the widely-held views of local residents?
It makes a mockery of the process.
Some of those who attended an exhibition earlier this month about the supermarket plans will have heard others bemoaning the lack of “diversity” in the room.
Their implication seemed to be that it is only white, middle class people – the kind who flock to the farmers’ market – who feel negatively towards the idea of yet another supermarket in the area. But is this really the truth?
Yes, most of those who showed up to debate with the PR men and women fitted this demographic profile. But surely that is a failure in the consultation process and not an indication that everyone but the farmers’ market denizens is happy for the plans to go ahead.
Which brings us to Lord Sainsbury, the Labour peer who, according to a piece in the Guardian earlier this year, was poised to donate £250,000 to help create a 10,000-strong army of community organisers to help “resist change imposed by state or the private sector in their neighbourhoods”.
The scheme, known as the Movement for Change, promises to empower local people and help them make their voices heard.
Apparently it’s Labour’s answer to Cameron’s Big Society, but the article reported that some people were “concerned that Labour activists trained in these methods could come into conflict with local Labour councils that might also be trying to impose unpopular policies”.
There is no suggestion that Hackney Council has a view on the suitability of the Sainsbury’s plans, but it will certainly be interesting to see which way councillors in the nearby wards are going to jump when it comes to supporting the Wilmer Place development.
In the mean time, let us raise the cry of: “Lord Sainsbury yes, Sainsbury’s no!”
For his apparent commitment to bottom-up local government in defence of local peculiarities, the man in the House of Lords has our wholehearted support.