Friday, 13 June 2008

Tesco Spring Hill and the demise of local shops

Here’s a puzzle that I’d like answered: You take a boat out to really deep water. On the deck of the boat is a really really heavy anchor on a short chain. When you throw the anchor into the water, does the anchor keep going and drag the boat after it ?

I ask because part of Birmingham, Spring Hill, has a proposed shopping development and part of it, a supermarket, is to be The Anchor. Why is a supermarket an anchor anyway ? Could you wake up one morning to find a parade of small shops blocking the street because it was not properly anchored ?

Birmingham FOE has its own local Shops campaign that expresses concerns that building yet more supermarkets usually means that local shops are lost. There aren’t black and white cases as items in a supermarket may be cheaper than in the local shop – price savings at the shop, but the customer has had to travel and that travel has taken up more time. The customer can solve this by living close to the supermarket. There may be a downside: streams of cars heading to the supermarket car park.

If you have got as far as reading this blog, you have more time than many people and could also go through the following website and make a comment on the planning application… website and look at Application number: C/02037/08/OUT
Location: Spring Hill / Icknield Street / Camden Street / Ellen Street, former Brookfield Precinct, Hockley, Birmingham, Proposal: Erection of foodstore (Class A1), 8 additional retail units (for A1, A2, A3, A4 or A5 use) with offices above (B1 or B2 use), 6 three-storey dwellings and alterations to Spring Hill Library, associated parking, landscaping and highway works, redevelopment of Birmingham Central Baptist Church to provide reconfigured and extended accommodation. In the development, the supermarket is to be ‘the anchor’.

Birmingham FOE’s planning campaigners have so far said:
Outline Planning application C/02037/08/OUT, Spring Hill, Camden St, Ellen Street,

The proposal to provide housing in a location close to existing facilities and services is welcome. However, the housing is a small part of the development that is dominated by a Supermarket. Does the whole development work, and does it comply with the planning rules ?

FOE have concerns about the Sustainable Development issues such as set out in paragraph 3.14E of The Birmingham Plan 2005. In particular the supermarket carries a 316 space car park with entrances and exits on Camden St and Ellen St that will considerably inconvenience pedestrians. FOE ask for seating spaced at suitable intervals on routes that radiate out from the shopping centre as it is claimed people will walk there.

FOE further state that the size and height of the proposed development provide an opportunity to collect energy from the sun through the use of solar water heating and/or photovoltaic cells on the roofs and the southerly facing facades. This to be in accordance with The Birmingham Plan 2005 paragraph 3.79.

On transport FOE ask where taxis and minibuses will wait / set down staff and customers and suggest this will need to be covered in a Travel Plan.

Tesco, the supermarket in this case, does not, however, consider the availability of the planet’s resources. Is it right that we fuel-prosperous Brummies take long drives past adequate but smaller shops closer to home, which leads to the demise of our local High Streets and corner shops?

John Hall

Monday, 9 June 2008

Poverty & climate change

Last Monday I was invited to speak at the Diana Stableworth Memorial Lecture by UN Association Birmingham. As a humanitarian aidworker by day and an environmentalist the rest of the time, I chose to combine the two: talking about poverty, climate change and the role of the UN. The main cause for people to be poor (not just financially, but genuinely and fully poor) in the majority of countries is environmental: loss of livelihood due to forest being chopped, loss of life and property due to desertification, floods and landslides. Landslides are often exarcerbated by loss of forest as tree roots no longer hold the soil together. And these forests are at great risk of being chopped and sold off cheaply to pay for international debts, debts often incurred by previous regimes (of dubious integrity) and with eye watering interest rates. This means many countries spend more on servicing debts than they spend on healthcare, education or sanitation. This in turn means next generations have less opportunities to escape debt and poverty through education and good health.

The UN has laudable aims (see UN charter preamble and article 55 for instance) and positive plans (e.g. 8 Millennium Development Goals, incl. halving hunger and ensuring environmental sustainability, all in SMART objectives to be achieved by 2015). Achieving these objectives doesn't come cheap (a few billion here, a few billion there). However, these amounts pale by the amounts we even spend on make-up in Europe, or pet food in the US, let alone spend on the military!

So what are our priorities? What will truly compel us to action? Is it when climate refugees become a 'security issue' (which some Governments are starting to call it)? The UN has a role, but WE ARE the UN, and the poor didn't choose to be poor, nor did we have much say in being lucky enough to have been born in wealthier parts of the world. So come on, let's BE HUMAN, let's care for our joint future and take ACTION (think what difference millions of 2p can do, together!).

In peace, Rianne