LETTER: Don’t expect a Next or M&S in Louth

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It was good to see two well-reasoned arguments about the building of the new Asda being printed in the Leader.

Unfortunately, I once again have some factual news for those who based their decision to support on the fact that we may possibly get an M&S or Next opening on the site – this will most definitely NOT happen.

While it makes for a very nice artist’s impression in the Asda presentation, it is completely incompatible with retail developments over the last 6 years, let alone planning for the town’s requirements for the next decade - I’m afraid you have been somewhat manipulated (though I notice the word ‘possible’ is used so our American friends of Asda cannot be accused of falsehood).

The UK has the highest degree of online buying in the world, and retailers have been downsizing new developments since around 2008 to reflect this. M&S have recently categorically stated that due to this and their existing store network they consider they have reached saturation coverage and will not be opening ANY new outlets when their current 3-year plan is completed (I believe they are the first of the big chains to publicly say this, but they all move in the same general direction so others will soon follow).

Also, as the population density of Louth and surrounding rural area is relatively low it is well within the modern capture area of Grimsby, so there is simply no business incentive for the likes of Next to open a new store in the town - indeed it is actually in their best interests for you to continue travelling to existing outlets or using the internet.

And as recent events in Lakenham show Asda are quite happy to back out of any agreement, if they do actually build additional units the most probable outcome is for them to fill them by undercutting the leases of selected chain outlets in the town centre and thus completely dominate and control the town’s retail activities from Newmarket Street.

You also need to be aware that independent research shows that 95% of the money spent in supermarkets goes straight out of the local economy, compared to 50% of that spent in small local shops. In light of this Derby have just become the 20th large council in England to request under the Sustainable Communities Act that a tax be levied on the big supermarkets to help offset the damage caused to local economies (as is already the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland).

Interestingly, Whitehall do not dispute the figures but indicate they will not be supporting the request saying it will make the cost of supermarket produce too high – effectively agreeing 
that Louth’s town centre will suffer from urban decline as a result of the Asda development.

I realise that there will still be elements of the MLF movement and ELDC who will disagree with this and that independent experts, 20 large councils, Whitehall, the Scottish Legislature, the Northern Ireland Assembly (and no doubt the Board of M&S) are wrong.

This is a great shame – because Louth is so unique, with constructive dialogue and teamwork there is the opportunity for local traders and Asda to build on this with a joint strategy that would benefit Louth, sustain ELDC income both now and into the future, be a ‘game changer’ for the way local independent retailers and big supermarkets operate together, and open countless doors for Asda’s future corporate development and expansion.

Billy Buckenham

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