This story has been running all year in the face of a concerted anti-Tesco campaign which has included submissions to the Council from Germany and Australia. It has included a 600-strong protest march, a petition containing over 4,000 signatures, and a dedicated facebook group.
However, a related Facebook group called Let's turn Mill Road into chains free zone unintentionally puts my own argument into a nutshell:
Mill Road is an extraordinary street on which it is possible to drink Arabic coffee or fine wines; where you can worship in a Mosque, a Hindu shrine or a Baptist church; where you can eat foie gras or fish and chips, tom yum or chicken tikka lababda; where you can stock up on herbs and spices from aam to zedoary.My argument, and that of many others who are too busy to march down Mill Road, is: which of the above is a Tesco Metro going to threaten? (Although I'm a bit doubtful about the claim for foie gras; the last mention of it in Cambridge I recall was when a restaurant selling the delicacy was vandalised by animal-rights protestors. The story made me feel tempted to develop a foie gras habit.)
As well as being able to access all of the above, there are more goods you can buy on Mill Road - cannabis seeds and the means to grow them, second-hand firearms and hard-core pornography. In this context, I was surprised to learn that Cambridge's MP David Howarth is supporting the campaign against Tesco's opening in Mill Road: there are more important issues affecting the thoroughfare.
Like, for example, Lib Dem Councillor Kilian Bourke's plan to make Mill Road a shared space. I'm not saying that removing signage and road markings would not make motorists think more carefully about what they were doing, but the No Mill Road Tesco campaign's own video shows how busy the road can get; I don't see the wisdom of removing demarcation between those parts of the road used by drivers and those by pedestrians. The Wikipedia article linked to above states: "Shared space zones are very frightening for the blind and partially sighted who cannot visually negotiate their way with other road users, as the lack of separation implicit in these schemes has also has removed their safe space".
I'm rather unhappy with the video as it gives no indication of the time of day it was taken - during term time, much of Cambridge is practically gridlocked, not just Mill Road, for the school runs. When I was in town the other day, I saw how vulnerable the road was to stoppages when a huge Co-op van blocked the whole road while maneuvring into the street running down the side of the supermarket.
Which brings me to the reason why the Mill Road situation has been in my mind recently. Last week I went to an event at Cambridge University facilitated by the Co-op; it had been planned for a previous date, but a delay held it back until the week before the Tesco hearing. One of the speakers, I see from my notes, brought up the subject of the chain's own farms, which might "mitigate the impact of [pause] larger retailers". She later said that schoolchildren she spoke to thought that milk originates from Tesco's, and to much hilarity an audience member shouted, "you're really in trouble if your milk comes from Tesco's!"
I'm not saying that this event had a hidden agenda to herd Cambridge's shopping intelligentsia against Tesco's, but it reminded me that if you didn't know the smaller ethnic stores in Mill Road very well, then if you wanted anti-Mill-Road Tesco's material you went to Mill Road Co-op; and that a Tesco's in Mill Road would threaten the Co-op much more than it would, say, the tearooms, the pagan bookshop, the nail-bar, etc...
In February, the anti-campaign published a shopping-basket comparison, according to which another Tesco Express's goods were slightly dearer than goods bought in various local shops. Ok, but shortly after this the Cambridge News printed a letter from an older person who said she'd be happy to pay the difference if it would save her from walking up and down going to various shops. There's always swings and roundabouts. (I'm a little puzzled as to why the campaign differentiates between the Co-op as a "local" shop and Tesco's as a chain, though.)
The anti's have got an advantage here, in that it's much easier to proclaim oneself anti-Tesco than pro-Tesco. Myself, I'm "pro" a relatively pleasant shopping experience with a short waiting time and reasonable prices. I might get that in Asda's, Sainsbury's etc, but I happen to go to Tesco's when it's handy.
Indeed, I've always said that I prefer Tesco's; and added that if I stopped preferring it, or it was busy, I'd go somewhere else, because I do not ascribe to an ideology which classifies human beings as economic automata. I believe Tesco's would sit well in Mill Road because, with shops as with people, it takes all sorts.
Do the shopping, stuff the skunk
Normal service will not shortly be resumed