New model for village centres

An open letter to supermarkets generally and Waitrose in particular.

Time, I think, for strategists to set about devising a new marketing model for village centres. I’m talking here about the kind of villages that many people passing through might consider a small town but where the residents are firmly under the impression they’re living in a village.

This is because of expansion outwards and infilling to breaking point in order to satisfy planning authorities’ hunger for new houses for an insatiable supply of incomers looking for a bolt-hole for retirement or a nice place to bring up their families.

Most of the major supermarkets have managed to build on the edge of villages and towns in the area where I live.

However, some have used the presence of a small supermarket to inveigle their way into a village with the express object of expanding to unfeasible proportions.

Many of the villages of which I speak are villages still because the network of lanes and through-roads are simply inadequate to deal with the traffic that already passes along them on a daily basis.

Some may have bypasses which may alleviate the pressure without, ultimately, detracting from the allure of the village centres with their independent shops and businesses.

Nevertheless, others simply can’t cope. And yet the machine trundles on with energised groups of villagers banding together to oppose its relentless progress.

It does sometimes feel like a bulldozer has arrived and lying down in the street an option born of desperation.

If the planners are hamstrung by the demands for quotas and wealth-creation via commerce, then I would challenge the retailers themselves to come up with a solution that might satisfy the sceptics and the outright outraged.

The revered store in question wants to almost treble the size of their existing store, one which they acquired from a more lowly rival some three years ago.

Most of us don’t want them to. Our village has pre-existing problems likely to worsen if plans go ahead.

Still, so omniscient is this store that it predicts that these problems will disappear once its shiny new superstore is in place. Moreover, a sizeable number of the less affluent are never to be seen shopping there and many of them never will.

So, these are my thoughts for consideration by retailers generally and Waitrose specifically: if you don’t want your reputations to suffer, revise your approach.

Conduct real, comprehensive surveys before you launch into your development proposals. Do your research in a far more robust way than is evidenced in the case of this village.

Stop your graphic artists portraying architecture and lay-out in soft-focus, wide-angle, perennially sunny-day imagery.

Create in-scale drawings that are understandable by the lay-person.

Generate to-scale models of your developments viewed in the context of their surrounds that can be viewed on or off computers.

Make sure that the communities you infiltrate are not riven by your presence in their midst.

Invest in exploring the reality of life as it currently is for the residents of the village and for the immediate neighbours and businesses.

Stop relying on modelling techniques to demonstrate your proposal’s viability; each situation is unique.

Ensure that any inconvenience that may be suffered as a result of an extended development process will be compensated by you direct to those most affected and not in those statutory S106 payments you are obliged to make.

The only way you can redeem your image here is by reducing the ambition and scale of your proposals and then by doing all in your power to draw back those customers of the former supermarket into their village to do their weekly shop.

You may lose a few from the outlying villages who drive in but you’ll do your reputation a world of good and that may even pay off at the tills.

JENNY POWELL

Browns Lane, Storrington