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Local heroes: Saving local stores

This page was created by the BBC.

As the issue of clone towns increases in prominence, Action Network speaks to three campaigners fighting to save independent retailers.

Standing up for Notting Hill
Dying to save the peacocks
My battle with the superstores

Standing up for Notting Hill

Tim Burke runs Friends of Portobello, a group that are hoping to get the famous London market street rezoned to stop large chain stores from coming in. If his campaign is successful, it will be the first street of its kind, giving hope to others trying to protect independent stores.

Tim Burke runs Friends of Portobello
Campaigner: Tim Burke
I’ve lived on Portobello Road for the past 12 years. There’s a vibrancy and colour about the market which it’s renowned for.

But the buying power of chain stores and property developers is too strong at the moment. There are already 16 coffee shops in just a few blocks of Portobello – that’s no use to anyone.
People should be able to say what kind of area they want to live in.

Our group started up about nine months ago. Joining a group of “friends” is a better way for people to do something positive about a place they like than joining an action group. We’re less confrontational so it gives us a broader base and allows us a better dialogue with people in power. We’re in this to win it, not just to make a point.

In the past, people have fought to conserve architecture, but no one is conserving the diverse character aspects of the city. People need it for a sense of individualism.

Portobello Market
Portobello has 16 coffee shops
We want the street rezoned into a 'business conservation area' which would protect sole traders on the street. They’ve done the same thing in Paris, so I don’t see why we can’t do it here. And if we are successful it would mean other places could use the legislation to do the same thing.

We’re talking to property developers and the council. The council has to consult us under the local development framework, so we’ve been talking to them about what we want included in the planning guidelines over the next 10 years.

The key to successful activism is to make a boring issue interesting by using imagination. We do this by using the media, using email rather than having endless meetings, and delegating work effectively. The aim is to plant a seed in councillors’ minds so they think they’ve come up with the idea themselves.

We are creative and positive, but a lot of campaigns become unstuck in the negative.

end quote
Notting Hill has always had a strong political undercurrent, we’ve had riots in the past – our campaign is just following the Portobello tradition of standing up for itself.

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Dying to save the peacocks

Steve Parle (left) is the Vice Chair of Didsbury Civic Society. He helped to run a campaign to save Peacocks, a Georgian building in the centre of Didsbury, a suburb of Manchester, from redevelopment. Despite strong support and coverage in the local press, the campaign lost and the building was demolished to be rebuilt as a retail centre. He says the character of the village has been lost, paving the way for another “clone town”.

Steve Parle of Didsbury Civic Society
Find out more about the campaign
The Peacocks funeral parlour dated back to around 1804. It was built out of local clay and was one of the only pre-industrial buildings in the area, sitting right in the heart of the village. It formed the centrepiece, really.

In recent years, the building has been solely owned by the United Co-op. They said the business wasn’t viable anymore because not enough people in the town were dying. It is true that younger people have moved here.

When we heard they were planning to replace it with retail and office space we immediately placed objections. But we went in from the point of view that the organisation, being open and democratic, would listen to us. We were wrong.

First we found out four of the 13 council members voting had been sponsored by the Co-op. So we held a demonstration and got 600 people to sign a petition. Then, following a High Court injunction, those council members were made to withdraw and the planning application was turned down.

At that stage, we thought we had won. But the Co-op appealed to the Secretary of State, and succeeded. We wrote to Co-op directors, but they wouldn’t talk to us. Some of their investors even withdrew their support over it, but it had no effect on them.

Peacocks protest
Campaigners stage a protest
Then the building was demolished. We tried to get it listed to protect it, but because it had new windows it wasn’t eligible.

After the demolition there was a sense of depression in the town. It rubbed some of our identity away. Some people have told me they still can’t walk past the site without a tear coming into their eye.

There is speculation that Boots will move across into the new site, and a Costa Coffee will replace the old Boots shop. It’s the whole clone town thing coming in.

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This experience has left me cynical, but I’m still optimistic. I believe that if enough people are willing to get involved, these battles can still be won.

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My battle with the superstores

John Beasley helped set up the Opposition to Destruction of Open Green Spaces (OTDOGS), a national campaign group which prevents superstores from being built.

John Beasley
John outside Sainsbury’s
Future generations will curse us for allowing superstores to be built. I was very aware when I was growing up that we did all our shopping literally within 100 yards of where we lived. Local shopkeepers provided you with a service you couldn’t possibly have got in a superstore.

My first campaign started in 1989, when Sainsbury’s announced they wanted to build a development in South East London, my local area.

I wrote a letter in the local press opposing it and then we launched our campaign.

We contacted all the main amenity societies in our neighbourhood, from the East Dulwich Society to the Camberwell Society. Fortunately, all were against the development. We also contacted our local councillors the local community groups.

Although we lost the campaign and the superstore was eventually built, we were able to take the lessons we had learnt and used them to stop Sainsbury’s building a Homebase next door.

Hayes Grove
Victory: Housing wins
We met with the developers to make our position clear. We felt the area was already well supplied with these items.
The opening of Sainsbury’s had caused the closure of local shops and we really didn’t want this to be repeated. Terry’s local DIY has always been considered an Aladdin’s cave; there’s no way I felt a Homebase could possibly have provided the customer service we got from his shop.

The planning application was rejected by the council on a number of issues; mainly that the local roads wouldn’t have coped with the additional traffic and the prediction that other businesses would have been threatened with closure.

We ran our campaign on a shoe-string. But really the wonderful thing about campaigning is that you can have some strange bed-fellows.

You may be an active member of your local Labour Party, but when you enter the campaign trail, you could find yourself working with Conservatives, Liberal Democrats or people from the Socialist Workers’ Party.

end quote
A campaign can be more successful simply as a result of having an amazing coalition of people with a wide range of views.

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Find out more or take action on supermarkets or clone towns.

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