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Town centres at risk if supermarket-led development fails

Supermarket-led development can bring valuable jobs and investment to an area. But CABE reports that many schemes are simply repeating old out-of-town proposals – typically big plain buildings in a large car park – which are unsuitable for town centres. It warns that short term economic gain will not compensate for the loss of local character and ability to change and adapt easily over time.

The report, Supermarket-led development: asset or liability?, offers technical advice to planners and councillors on how to work together with supermarkets to make the best of each investment opportunity, creating schemes which are both commercially viable and enhance the place in which they are built.

The report comes as the government prepares to introduce the Decentralisation and Localism Bill to Parliament.  Richard Simmons, chief executive at CABE, says that is significant, given the history of public opposition to supermarkets. “With local people given real power to decide what gets built and where, it wil be even more in the interests of supermarkets to propose good schemes which benefit the area.’

In the report, CABE identifies a Sainsbury’s development in  Fulham, west London, as a good example of a scheme which should become an asset to the area. The store will be built behind smaller shops and housing, to avoid dominating the street scene. The scheme proposes attractive landscaping and new public riverside access, while entrances to the apartments are off a lively pedestrian-friendly street.

In contrast, a scheme proposed by Tesco for the centre of Epsom, Surrey, would become a liability. An overbearing building includes three storeys of parking for 500 cars, in a neighbourhood of two storey terraced housing, with a skim of housing units failing to disguise its bulk.

The report also highlights the problem of housing quality in mixed-use schemes.  CABE has reviewed developments which propose that residents should get to their homes from the basement car park; with balconies that overlook delivery yards; and where the apartments are mostly single aspect and north facing, leaving them without much sunlight.

The report highlights the need for supermarkets and planners to think long term and consider very carefully combining different elements, such as shops and housing, which have different life cycles. Supermarket buildings could well be redundant long before the homes built above them.


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