Supermarkets buying up sites on outskirts of town “like sword of Damacles” on high streets says Cambs store boss

Jonathan James

Jonathan James - Credit: Archant

Jonathan James, who once owned Budgens stores in Chatteris and Soham, believes supermarkets buying up land on the outskirts of towns have “acted like the sword of Damocles” on communities.

Dee Laws, centre, at one of the Whittlesey meetings which debated rival supermarket bids

Dee Laws, centre, at one of the Whittlesey meetings which debated rival supermarket bids - Credit: Archant

Mr James, until recently chairman of the Association of Convenience Stores, told a BBC local radio debate that he believes the recession, on line shopping and “the onslaught of discounters” has brought about a rapid change in consumer habits.

He also believes successive Governments have failed to “police” a policy which insisted supermarkets look at town centre sites first before moving to out of town.

“Therefore things got through that shouldn’t have,” he said. And when those out of town centres don’t get built they damage the High Street “which looks the poorer for it”.

Mr James was one of those who fought against an out of town store at Soham that was approved by East Cambs District Council but which remains unbuilt. Earlier this year he sold his town centre Budgens store to Asda.

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But he felt that towns such as March which has a Sainsbury’s store in the centre had “proven to be a good thing. March is a classic example of getting it right. When I was there recently the town was buoyant, people were parking up and doing their shopping and I believe in the right location a supermarket can do good, in the wrong location they can completely bypass the high street”.

Whittlesey town councillor Dee Laws said that her town was “unique” in not having a major supermarket and there was wide support for the planned Sainsbury’s in Eastrea Road.

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She said she was confident Sainsbury’s had included a new Whittlesey store in the eight they still intend to build after announcing 40 other proposed stores had been axed.

A supermarket would be likely to retain people in town for their shopping and not have to travel seven miles to a major supermarket, she said.

“I think what you have to realise is that Sainsbury is not just a food store for it will bring with it a 57 acre country park and also business park which doesn’t conflict with our town centre,” she said.

Mr James added that the country was “very much seeing very different consumer habits and the industry has to react accordingly”.

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