Friday, August 28, 2009

Tesco: single-issue activists in tatters

The Tesco Express (small store) has only been in Cambridge's Mill Road for three days, yet it's starting to feel as if it's been there forever. It's bright, airy and affordable, and the staff are friendly.

So what was all the trouble about?

Richardc Normington, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Conservative Party - click to go to website
Although resistance to Tesco's planning application for the store first came onto my radar last March, the cause of the confusion manipulated by a disaffected minority was summed up recently by Cambridge Conservative parliamentary candidate Richard Normington, who recently attended a planning meeting in the city convened to determine whether should the council enforce its own planning guidelines.
Why bother with rules if you do not plan on enforcing them? However, the City Council has overruled its own guidelines to the point that the council is treated with ridicule by many of those putting in applications. Did you know that two in every five appeals against the city are successful?
Indeed, in the planning meeting last March, "The recommendations from council officers and consultants in every case was that the Council should approve the proposed changes, usually with conditions. Arguments were backed up with reference to Central Government advice, history and the context of the Mill Road area in a 153-page agenda." All but one were refused.

The anti-TeDavid Howarth, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge City - click for webpagesco cmpaign has been backed up by the city's Liberal Democrat MP David Howarth, who was a witness to an assault on a 66-year-old woman collecting signatures for a petition in favour of Tesco's. To his merit he offered himself to the police as a witness; but although I realise MPs must immerse themselves in all aspects of life in their constituencies, I wonder why he was concentrating on keeping Tesco away from Mill Road while on the same thoroughfare you can buy cannabis seeds, second-hand firearms and hard core pornography, while elsewhere in the city there are problems with drug-taking, prostitution, benefit-ghettoes and drink-fuelled violence at chucking-out time. Tesco's, it seems, should be the least of his problems, and the whole situation reflects the risks of mixing with single-issue activists to the exclusion of people who are on the other side of that issue.David Howarth (far left) helping collect signatures for the No Mill Road Tesco campaign

There are those who say that Tesco's opening will herald shop closures and job losses. They will, of course, be proven right, because shops have been closing and jobs been lost for some time now - it's called a recession.

Something that may militate in Tesco's favour is the lack of an alcohol licence, in the context of accusations that the outlet - in reality a small shop among small shops - will become another source of cheap booze in an area plagued by problems related to the stuff. A dry Tesco's, I believe, will throw light onto the true source of inexpensive strong lagers and ciders whose brewers are well aware of their target market. They are sold in some of the very independent traders whom the No Mill Road Tesco Campaign affects to protect.

The campaign is, of course, in tatters, a fact recognised by judge Lord Carlisle of Berriew when he threw out Campaign member Richard Rippin's attempt to force a judicial review of the Council's decision-making process: "This application is in reality an attempt to revive the No Mill Road Tesco Campaign under the guise of a Judicial Review claim. It is a misuse of Judicial Review".

single-issue activism: anti-Tesco campaigners crowd out the opposition at a planning meetingOn Wednesday morning, Minora phoned me from outside Mill Road Tesco's to report that there were a few Campaign members outside the entrance, flanked by watchful police officers. While Campaign supporters had been quite vociferous when protesting in the Cambridge Folk Festival, these would only give a terse "I can't comment", presumably having been well-warned. It's a sign of the times that pragmatism has won out over ideologically-based censorship, and anybody who doesn't like Tesco's will be free to use any of the meny other shops in Mill Road. That's how free choice works.


  1. The window of the Tesco Express on Mill Road was targeted last night by vandals who threw a brick and bottles, causing some damage. I spoke to one of the staff who said there was a lot of broken glass outside the shop on the tarmac.

  2. Thanks for your comment. It's sad to hear that the No Mill Road Campaign, having recently resorted to lying by claiming in a leaflet that Tesco never had any permissions for anything in Mill Road, has now returned to violence.

  3. What possible evidence do you have linking the NMRT campaign, who are clearly of the peaceful letter-writing variety, with a load of idiot thugs who have nothing better to do than to smash private property?

    I think you should withdraw that suggestion, as you risk undermining the rest of your article.

    PS You omitted the factual point that a government inspector threw out Tesco's first application. I'd say that's pretty rare, so the city council's opposition can't have been as baseless as you imply.

  4. I withdraw no suggestion; in any case the one you're referring to isn't in the article but in reply to a comment.

    As per planning permission, I think the council's debating as to whether or not it should enforce its own rules on planning says it all.

  5. Where you wrote it is irrelevant. You've authored a direct accusation that "the No Mill Road Campaign ... has now returned to violence" but presented no evidence for new or even old violence. So much for the great British principle of being innocent until proven guilty!

    Surely no group undertaking high court action would be stupid enough to be undertaking illegal activity, as it would demolish any case instantly. It's also certainly not what middle-class letter writing types tend to do!

    I cannot fault your final implication about debating whether to enforce its own rules is a poor state of affairs; presumably the only reason this example has come to light is because of vocal concern from locals - there must be a lot of other cases of 'turning a blind eye' amongst council officials in the hope that no-one notices. No doubt when I want to build the extension to my house I won't be allowed to do it without a lot of regulations being checked on!


Please feel free to leave a comment - Frugal Dougal.