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Town centres at risk if supermarket-led development fails

21 November 2010

A new report by CABE warns that supermarket-led developments in town centres will be a liability rather than an asset to the community if they are not well designed.

Sainsbury’s, Fulham Wharf, west London.

Sainsbury’s, Fulham Wharf, west London. Image courtesy of Cityscape Digital Ltd.

Supermarket-led development: asset or liability, is based on reviews by CABE of 30 major schemes from around the country by retailers including Tesco, Asda, and Sainsbury’s. New stores and mixed used developments by these supermarkets are now creating large parts of our towns and cities and may be the only regeneration on offer in the foreseeable future.

The report comes as the government prepares to introduce the Decentralisation and Localism Bill to Parliament.  Richard Simmons, chief executive at CABE, says that is significant, given the history of public opposition to supermarkets.

With local people given real power to decide what gets built and where, it will be even more in the interests of supermarkets to propose good schemes which benefit the area.
Richard Simmons, chief executive of CABE

Supermarket-led development can bring valuable jobs and investment to an area. But CABE reports that many schemes are simply repeating old out-of-town proposals – typically big plain buildings in a large car park – which are unsuitable for town centres. It warns that short term economic gain will not compensate for the loss of local character. 

The report offers technical advice to planners and councillors on how to work together with supermarkets to make the best of each investment opportunity, creating schemes which are both commercially viable and enhance the place in which they are built.

CABE identifies a Sainsbury’s development in Fulham, west London, as a scheme which should become an asset to the area. The scheme is pedestrian friendly and brings high quality new streets and landscaping, and the store has been designed to avoid dominating the street scene. In contrast, a scheme proposed by Tesco for Bromley by Bow gives precedence to the store itself, while the housing is sited by the A12 where noise, air quality and outlook are at their worst.

The report also highlights the problem of housing quality in mixed-use schemes.  CABE has reviewed developments which propose access to apartments from a basement car park, and apartments with balconies that overlook delivery yards.

Supermarket-led development: asset or liability highlights the need for supermarkets and planners to think long term and consider very carefully combining different elements, such as shops and housing, which have different life cycles. With changes such as the growth in on-line grocery shopping, supermarket buildings could be redundant long before the homes built above them.

CABE has design reviewed more than 30 large mixed-use retail led schemes.