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Study provides new evidence on the impacts of supermarket development on market towns and district centres

Published: 
2 December 2010
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Supermarkets built on the edge of town centres are shown to have an important role to play in helping maintain and enhance the vitality and viability of those centres, says a new report published by the University of Southampton.

The report ‘Revisiting the Impact of Large Foodstores on Market Towns and District Centres’, which was commissioned by Tesco, presents long overdue new evidence on this issue based on the findings of a major large-scale before/after study of eight UK market towns and district centres.

The key findings of the report, authored by Professor Neil Wrigley, Dr Dionysia Lambiri and Katherine Cudworth, show that:

  • Supermarkets built on either in-centre or edge-of-centre sites, in accordance with the ‘town centres first’ policy introduced by the Government in the mid 1990s, encourage significantly fewer local residents to leave the town for their main food shopping.
  • Those stores are not just used for ‘one-stop’ shopping. Shoppers link their supermarket trips with visits to other shops, increasing town centre footfall and enhancing vitality and viability.
  • Consumers are highly positive about the impacts of such developments on themselves and their families, other local residents, and the town centre. 
  • Town centre traders are positive about the impacts of such developments on local residents and the town centre, and take a generally positive or neutral view on the impacts on their own businesses.
  • Detailed study of changes in retail composition of the eight centres provides little support for widely held views linking supermarket development to the decimation of existing centres and their retail diversity.

More than 8,000 consumer and 1,000 trader responses were gathered during the three year study, which focused on four market towns in South West England and four district centres in the North West. The study involved interviewing local residents and traders and measuring the retail composition of the centres both prior to, then six months and one year after, the opening of new supermarkets.

The research is notable for introducing into wider planning policy debate the first large-scale evidence base on these issues since the 1998 report of the then DETR (Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions). It is also the first major study of these issues to have focused specifically on the new generation of town-centre-oriented supermarket developments built to meet the requirements of revised planning regulation supported by successive Governments since 1996.

Katherine Cudworth, Prof Neil Wrigley and Dr Dionysia Lambiri
Supermarket development

Publishing the study, Professor Wrigley said:

“Debates on the impacts of foodstore developments have become highly polarised. Via the design and conduct of this study we have sought to move forward those debates by providing a long overdue, large-scale and up-to-date body of research evidence, compiled to rigorous and transparent standards.

“On the basis of the first large-scale study of these issues to have been conducted for more than a decade, our findings challenge the perception that the so-called ‘onslaught’ of supermarkets on market towns and district centres has uniformly negative impacts.”

‘Claw back’ of trade previously lost to out-of-centre stores, increased footfall for town centre traders and urban ‘buzz’ generated by linked trips, are highlighted by the report as key benefits of the new generation of town-centre-oriented supermarket developments. The findings suggest that consumers recognise this – two-thirds taking the view, a year after new supermarket openings, that they are beneficial to themselves, their families, other local residents and the town centre.

Professor Wrigley adds:

“Contrary to popular opinion, local traders also recognise those benefits. Additionally, detailed studies of change in the retail composition of centres provide little evidence to support commonly held views linking supermarket development to decimation of existing centres and their retail diversity.

“As planning enters a new era of policy guidance, which began with PPS4 - Planning for Sustainable Economic Growth - it is our hope that this report will have a vital and lasting role in re-energising policy debates relating to foodstore impacts on the economic health and sustainable development of market towns and district centres.”

The full report is available from http://www.riben.org.uk/report/

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