Everyone is excited about local. There is a huge level of interest in the idea of independent businesses employing local people and providing a genuine point of difference in an increasingly clone-town nation. Yet when a multiple retailer arrives and says they want to open a store, it still seems that most council planning departments welcome them with open arms.
The most recent example is in Edinburgh, where Premier retailers Dennis and Linda Williams have fought a long and energetic campaign to make sure the council knows what locals actually want to do with the land – and that is more housing. Yet despite the support of MPs, MSPs and 400 local objections, Aldi have been given the go-ahead for a new store.
Of course, evaluating local preferences can be tricky – in some parts of the country there were protests when Tesco said they were moving in several years ago, only to be followed by a separate set of protests when the retailer said it was pulling out. And when all the market data points to the fact that shoppers are switching from big superstores to the German discounters, it is difficult to say that any town should be closed to new developments.
But in the case of Dennis and Linda’s campaign, it is clear the community and elected officials thought the land should be used for affordable housing.
David Cameron’s government was supposed to be about localism. But somebody needs to tell the planners, because the message isn’t getting through.