Home Page How sustainable are either our shops or our shopping behaviour? 31/01/14

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

It’s been a week of mixed news for Haverhill’s town centre, with two well-loved shops announcing closure, but hints that there may be some movement on the long-boarded-up former Co-op building in Jubilee Walk.


We are told that a ‘large operator’ has shown an interest in the old Co-op, whatever that means. The rumour has long been that Morrisons had been the front-runner and, although it’s all pure speculation, one does get the feeling there might be something behind it this time.


Everyone says this would be a big boost for the high street, attracting in other retailers on its coat-tails, rather as Tesco brought us Costa and WH Smith. There may be some truth in it, but we are already seeing the destruction of what I would call traditional shopping in Haverhill.


Haverhill is often quite a trend-setter in social and economic developments, not by design, but because we have so little in the way of facilities that people have to come up with new ways of accessing the services they need – new ways which the rest of the country is soon adopting as well because they prove to be cheaper.


Gloom-mongers have been telling us for some time that high streets will not be retail hubs for much longer, changing to become leisure-time venues where people can go to eat, to drink, to hang out, but not necessarily to shop.


The first driver in all this was the supermarket. As supermarkets got bigger they slowly pushed out the weaker local retailers and the small department stores. Sainsbury’s started on this when they built what is now that old, sad, boarded-up Co-op building in Jubilee Walk in the 1970s.


The next nail in the coffin was the out-of-town supermarket. Sainsbury’s took this forward in 1990, moving out to Hanchet End. There were visions of a large retail park out there, but in the end we got something quite small, just Focus, now B&Q, and Wickes, now Halfords.


The next move was the in-town supermarket and Tesco who, we are led to believe, had been sniffing around for years for a site on the edge of town without success, snapped up the old station yard.


Slowly these were chipping away at the local retailers. We quickly had no greengrocer left, we lost the fresh fish shop, the off licences and all but one of the butchers, finally saying farewell to the last one more recently.


White goods proved a different scenario, because no large warehouse retailer from that sector set up here. We had mini versions of Currys and Rumbelows, but our local guys saw them off. Something might have materialised at Hamlet Green if it had not been for the economic crash of 2007/8. It may still do so.


Clothing has been a bit of a battleground for a long time. It’s a pretty subjective sector, so there is always a chance for smaller shops, but in Haverhill price is king, so most of them have been at the lower end of the market. Nevertheless we have not been big enough for Primark, say, to come and wipe everyone else out.


For leisure wear there was always Morleys, one of just four long-established independents surviving in the town centre, but now that is closing.


The pubs have gone down like dominos in recent years, mainly thanks to the arrival of Wetherspoons, one suspects, but also due to changing habits and now the emergence of Bar Vu.


There has been a significant increase in pound shops, charity shops, bookies and takeaways, but the distinctive, specialist shops – the sort of shops which, in quantity, create a town centre and bring footfall from outside – have never materialised, or, like Strowgers the jeweller, are heading for more lucrative pastures.


Another in-town supermarket will obviously bring benefits, but may be something of a double-edged sword. Between them, the giants would cater (poorly) for almost everything.


The potential effect of Tesco was partially acknowledged by the company’s securing expert research and advice for local retailers from a source which it had itself tapped – Kent Business School.


That project seems to have vanished without trace. It supposedly worked with St Edmundsbury Borough Council and reported to the Haverhill Area Working Party, but as that almost never meets, having nothing apparently to discuss, we remain in the dark on that one.


In all this I have not yet even mentioned the biggest threat of all – the Internet. If, like me, you have spent the last two or three days wrestling with a computer problem, you may wonder why people shop on-line at all, but it is the modern preference.


I prefer the real thing myself, but then I don’t much like shopping at all, and only enjoy browsing or buying in certain specific sectors such as fresh foods, books, outdoor clothing and equipment, cookware, music, gardening – already you will be noticing how this is building into a list drawn from the areas which Haverhill does not cater for (particularly after the exit of Morleys), except on Fridays and Saturdays in our excellent market.


And how often do I shop? Rarely, is the answer – at least, nowhere near often enough to keep anyone in business. If everyone in Haverhill was like me, the sort of shops I (and they) would like to use would probably be viable, but they are not. You only have to look around the high street to see what Haverhill wants.


In the last two days, when I have been at home trying not to deposit my recalcitrant computer through the window, I have received and signed for more than a dozen items by courier – not all for me, I hasten to add, some for my family, some for my neighbours – all delivered by different vans. Meanwhile, our high street dwindles. Is this sustainable shopping?

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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