Let’s face it, the battle to save our towns from becoming crap-towns has been fought and lost.
In reality it wasn’t a fair fight. In war/fairness terms it was like pitting the 101st Airborne against Nicholas Parsons.
In his excellent and blood-pressure doubling book Captive State, George Monbiot talks about the Tesco-effect and what it does to towns.
This effect is approximately this: If a Tesco (or any big supermarket) opens a store in your town, employing say 500 people, then within a 5 mile radius roughly 1000 people will lose their jobs and businesses.
Net loss, 500 jobs (usually butchers, pubs, ice-cream men, chemists, milkmen, bookshops and, of course, grocers).
With this in mind, I was not exactly astonished to read that the town of Altrincham topped a recent list of new ghost towns, towns with a high incidence of vacancies – a word planners use to mean boarded up shops.
Now Altrincham was, until recently, considered quite posh. It is still surrounded on all sides by prosperous family neighbourhoods and good schools.
With Dewsbury and Bradford, also high on this ghost town list, there are other factors, like a terminal decline in industry. But Altrincham doesn’t have these broader, historical problems.
So why has the town centre wobbled and waned faster than Eric Pickles doing the three peaks? Well a downward view from google maps sheds light.
Altrincham not only has one of the biggest Tesco stores I’ve ever seen (blue on the map below), but somehow it got permission to build this megashed literally fifty yards from the high street (red).
(Supermarket people always claim they will ‘increase choice’ if they are allowed to build. The term ‘increase choice’ is used by all sorts of idiots, often politicians just before they begin privatising something.)
If you start walking from the other side of the town centre, the place visibly gives up and dies the closer you get to the Tesco Extra.
Wonder if a late counter-offensive from Mary Portas could put things right?