It’s a measure of the unpopularity of supermarkets in the Scottish capital these days that chains now acquire empty premises on the quiet, using property developers to clinch the deal before the local community cottons on to the identity of the new landlords.
Currently, a retailer can move into vacant shops of similar use without going through the planning process, but Edinburgh Council has written to the Scottish government asking it to change the law so that supermarkets will have to apply for planning permission before taking over small independent shops.
This demand reflects the frustration of citizens dismayed at the latest rash of supermarkets, currently Sainsbury’s, erupting on city streets. “How many supermarkets can a local economy support before we see the loss of independent shopping?” asks councillor Alison Johnstone.
If this proposal becomes law, councillors will be able to distinguish between independent traders and big brand retailers, and technically halt bids from large chains muscling into the high street and causing a headache for the local community.
For instance, when the third (totally unneeded) Tesco opened in a stretch of road near my home, locals were assured it would not cause problems. It did. The road is routinely clogged with double-parked delivery lorries and cars sitting on double yellow lines, obscuring visibility at junctions with neighbouring streets, making them dangerous.
Packaging from the loading bay cascades down the adjoining canal embankment, spilling into the water. Surrounding stretches of the canal are congenial, litter-free and of high amenity. In Tesco’s backyard, ducks circumnavigate floating carrier bags and branches of nearby trees are permanently garlanded with shredded Tesco plastic.
This pollution continues, despite the efforts of local residents, three councillors, litter wardens, environmental health officers and British Waterways. You can forget the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Whether the issue is traffic, litter, or - as was the case with Tesco’s Covent Garden Store - mice, when supermarkets move in, it is the community that is penalised.