September 16, 2014 9.28 am This story is over 86 months old

How supermarkets are damaging the local community

True sustainability? Pete Dixon argues that despite creating jobs in the area, supermarkets are actually a drain on local economy.

Buzzwords are all well and good, except when their meanings are manipulated to suit the messenger and their message. “Sustainable” is one such word. Victim of soundbites and policies being implemented at all levels of government. Locally, our councils are as guilty as any.

Geographically we, the people of Lincoln and surrounding villages, aren’t best placed to attract a wide range of employers. Certainly where infrastructure is an issue we are at a disadvantage. As such, I suspect our representatives in local government have to work harder than elsewhere in order to attract businesses to the region. Why then I wonder does our City Council seem keener than ever to encourage the expansion and building of supermarkets and “express” stores on every patch of ground that becomes available?

Where is sustainability provided by granting planning permission to leaders of an industry that controls 97% of the grocery market, and is directly responsible for the closure of around 80% of our local shops? Supermarkets and those who support their expansion argue that every new store creates jobs for local people. Maybe so, but the evidence shows that as a result, 276 jobs are lost locally as a result. How does this promote sustainability in the local economy?

Leaders of the City Council take every opportunity to tell us that they are working to support small businesses, that they want to promote sustainable growth and revitalise the city centre and High Street. With the presence of a brand convenience store and the imminent opening of yet another supermarket chain’s branch, I doubt the owners and employees of those businesses on Newark Road in Bracebridge will be convinced by the methodology of council planners.

Far from contributing to the community and local economy, supermarkets suck out its lifeblood. An independent retailer will effectively plough 50% of his or her turnover back into the local community. By comparison, only 5% of a supermarket’s revenue stays within the local area. How can such a disparity be justified as contributing towards sustainable growth in a local community?

Another popular myth is that supermarkets offer consumers greater choice. Possibly but at what cost? In an increasingly competitive industry, waste has never been greater and the quality of the produce has arguably never been worse. Processed food and TV dinners, massed produced and squirted onto trays for convenience have been found in high profile cases recently not to contain “exactly what it says on the tin”. Aside from consumer wastage, the demand for uniformity and acceptable appearance leads to almost 30% of the UK’s vegetable crop being discarded annually.

Where is the sustainability for the population or our environment in purchasing produce transported dozens and dozens or hundreds of miles via distribution centres when we could choose dairy products, meat, vegetables and seasonal fruit grown right on our doorstep?

Perhaps of greater significance are the marketing strategies employed to entice the consumer to buy based on pleasure rather than health or necessity. The cumulative effects are all around us. The overwhelming majority of us, children included, are clinically obese, many of us classified as morbidly so. As we succumb to the advertisers’ mantra, obesity, once a rich man’s preserve, will, with its implications for individual health, place ever greater strain on the budget of a health service that the government tells us is operating at unsustainable levels. Which patient group will suffer next?

They say charity begins at home. In an economy that will never be less than challenging for most, the same must surely apply to truly sustainable growth. By putting the health, wealth and happiness of our own communities first.

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Pete Dixon is a town councillor for Moor ward in North Hykeham, a member of the Green Party and Chair of the local branch. He works for the NHS at Lincoln County Hospital. Father of a young daughter, he's also a keen biker and enjoys watching Moto GP or a glass of Islay malt.