River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Out-of-town Shopping

April 2001

Will Tesco's bring too much extra traffic?

So Tescos have come to town. Some might feel some sympathy for existing shops and for Somerfields and Iceland, who have served us reasonably well, but most will welcome Tescos in Downham, although they might ask why they built such an ugly building? Is it a consequence of the local planners insisting it should be in keeping with the rest of the town? Whatever we think we will all welcome the additional parking that they bring.

Downham Market is fortunate in being able to accommodate a new supermarket close to the town centre and, at the same time, having a traffic flow system that is likely to avoid serious congestion problems. This is not the case for many towns and by far the best solution for them is to build their supermarket out-of-town, or at least on the edge of town. Not just supermarkets of course, similar arguments can be put for the d.i.y sheds and other stores. This attitude has led to a rash of such developments all over the country, King's Lynn being fairly typical. But now the Government has said it has to stop. Despite their obvious popularity with the public and their commercial success, we are told "No more out-of-town shopping complexes". Plans for a major out-of-town development for Cambridge, which included a large John Lewis store, were turned down after reaching an advanced stage due to this change in policy, yet nowhere is more in need of out-of-town shops than Cambridge.

Out-of-town shops use up green field sites!

They may do, although many edge of town sites are often derelict industrial sites and not very green. In any event 85% of the country is not built on, a few out-of-town shops will make very little difference.

They are difficult for town dwellers to reach if they do not have access to a car.

True, but this represents a small minority. For years out of town dwellers have had to take the bus into town centres, why can't buses run from town centres to out-of-town shopping complexes?

They are destroying town centres, reducing them to ghost towns.

Undoubtedly towns are changing. Many of the reasons that led to the establishment of towns in the first instance and have led to their continued development in more recent times, no longer exist. Defence against marauding parties has long since ceased to be a justification for a town. Towns as centres for industry, with an immobile work force living just outside the factory gates, is also a phenomenon of the past and the function of towns as market centres is slowly disappearing. Is it time to rethink the role of towns? Should we not encourage major out-of-town developments and allow retail outlets in towns to find their own level? There would always be a place for the specialist shop and for businesses offering a service. Towns would continue to exist, not only as a location for the specialist shop but as leisure, tourism and cultural centres, as focal points in the public transport network and as centres for local government. They could become more pleasant, less crowded and less polluted areas with scope for further development as residential centres.

It seems to me that in opposing further out-of-town shopping developments the Government is behaving in Ostrich fashion standing in the way of change that is necessary to meet today's needs. It is incredible that, at a time when they are deeply concerned about traffic congestion and pollution in the towns, they should act in a way, which will force traffic to continue to funnel into the small areas of our town centres.

Ron Watts

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