Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland until I return to the Murcia region of Spain in the Autumn for a month or so
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Asda gets go-ahead for superstore in Inverness

The Scottish Executive (aka 'Scottish Government') has apparently granted Asda outline planning permission to open its superstore in Inverness at Slackbuie. At long last, 'Tesco Town' will have some serious competition to back-up the Morrisons outlet near the Eastgate Centre.

Tesco currently has three outlets in Inverness (with permission already granted for a fourth). Other supermarkets operating in Inverness include Lidl (with plans to open a second store), Aldi and the Co-op.

For Asda it will be its first store in Inverness and in the Highlands - the nearest store currently is in Elgin. As with the Asda application, the application by Sainsbury to open a supermarket in Nairn (also its first in the Highlands - nearest is in Aberdeen) was 'called in' by the Scottish Executive (aka 'Scottish Government') following its approval, against planning officials' recommendation, by Highland Council; a public inquiry was held recently in Nairn and it is hoped (by me and many others in Nairn) that Sainsbury will soon be granted approval to go ahead with this much-needed food retail outlet.

10 comments:

  1. I didn't realise you're recovering from shingles Bill, just saw you say on Twitter.

    Horrible illness it is and you're right about the itch. It can be overpowering can't it.

    Plenty rest and relaxation if I remember I was told but it was a long time ago now.

    Take care.

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  2. Thanks for your kind thoughts Subrosa. Yup, it's a pest. I've known a few people who've had it, and although they tell you what it's like, nothing explains it like experiencing it oneself - although I'd prefer to have been spared the knowledge ... lol ;)

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  3. What's your feelings on ASDA though?

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  4. Hi James

    Well, it's not my favourite - my first experience of Asda was quite a few years ago when I lived in London for a year and I found it very 'down-market' and 'utilitarian' compared to say Sainsbury or even Tesco.

    In recent years it has got better, but still of course not a good as some others. Although I tend now to do a lot of shopping at Tesco, that's because of its convenience and ubiquity in this area, not because I like it particularly. I'm looking forward to having a Sainsbury open in Nairn, assuming they get planning approval; unfortunately we're never like to get Waitrose up here. I also do quite a lot of food shopping in a couple of very excellent farm shops and a 'country fare' outlet which has excellent and unusual produce, akin to the food halls of certain well-known London outlets.

    However an Asda outlet in Inverness will help to give Tesco some much-needed competition, whatever one thinks of both.

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  5. Hi, Bill, thank you for putting me on your blogroll. I haven't been following this story much - do the objections hinge on the loss of the money for road improvements?

    Members of the Scottish Executive ain't pleased at objections.

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  6. Hi 'efrafandays'

    Welcome!

    As I understand it the sequence of events was as follows:

    - planning officials within Highland Council recommended refusal of planning permission, period.

    - the vast bulk of public opinion in Inverness was for approval and the planning officials' recommendation was overturned by Councillors who voted approval, including a commitment by Asda to provide GBP1.5mio for road improvement in the area (specifically the layout of a major roundabout near Tesco, Northern Constabularly and Raigmore Hospital). I am not sure whether that requirement was inserted at the instigation of planning officials or of the Councillors on Highland Council, or a combination, but it seems at any rate to have been agreed with Asda as the price they would have to pay for getting their new store. A similar sequence of events is in process with the Sainsbury's application for Nairn, initially recommended for refusal by planning officals, but overturned by Councillors at a stormy meeting here in Nairn, where there was vociferous public support for Sainsbury's to be granted permission.

    - Subsequently the planning approval was called in by the Scottish Executive in both the Asda and Sainsbury's cases, the latter is still with the Scottish Executive.

    - When the announcement was made that the Scottish Executive had given approval, part of their announcement included a statement (if I recall correctly) that it was 'unlawful' to impose a requirement on Asda to contribute to road restructuring and that it could not be enforced in law. Then Asda announced they were therefore no longer going to make that contribution - as any sensible businessperson would in the circumstances. Maybe, for all I know, the Scottish Executive was lobbied hard by Asda to make the decision they did.

    I have no idea on what basis it was judged unlawful to impose the road improvement funding as part of the approval decision (I am not a lawyer), but one imagines that the Scottish Executive's lawyers had a case to make. Obviously, whilst the basic approval of Asda is welcomed by most people in the area, so far as I have ever heard, the fact that they will no longer have to pay for the roundabout to be re-done has dismayed Highland Council and I can only assume that the Lib Dems have chosen to make an issue out of this for their own political purposes as a way of showing 'weakness' by the SNP minority Scottish Executive.

    It seems to me the legal basis for the Scottish Executive decision to adjudge imposition of such a commitment unenforceable is the crux of this whole issue and I am not in a position to make any useful comment about that. What I am clear about is that Inverness badly needs some better competition in its supermarket sector; Tesco is doggedly determined to retain its position and whilst announcing a week or so back that it was disposed to release a parcel of land to Asda adjacent to the roundabout, necessary for its improvement, I am sure that there is a lot more to this story than is included in the P&J article. During the recent Nairn open meetings on Sainsbury's application here, Tesco out of the blue introduced a cobbled-together plan to open a Tesco 'Express' at the old Bus Station, an unused eyesore on the main road running through town, in my view basically a 'spoiling tactic', which they took care to announce at the most critical juncture for Sainsbury's.

    There is a lot more going on here than we yet know about and in my view it won't be resolved by LibDems attempting to grab headlines with their usual silly antics.

    As you will perhaps have realised from reading my 'Who is Bill?' page the very last thing I am is a supporter of the SNP, or indeed the Labour Party, never mind the LibDems ;)

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  7. Cheers for that, Bill.

    So, if I understand correctly, localers would rather a non-Tesco store but really want the road improvements (personally, I'd spend it on reinstigating the local bus around Alness/Invergordon area so the link south from Caithness doesn't wear in and out of all those wee estates).

    It strikes both as bad faith on Asda's part, and bloody stupidness on the Executive's part in advizing this.

    My preference for the LibDems is mostly due to the local MP.


    ~alec

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  8. Hi 'efrafandays'

    Well, it is certainly true that locals wish, by overwhelming majority I understand, to have Asda open a branch, partly to save the trip to the nearest store at Elgin, partly to break the dominant position of Tesco; it's true that Morrison's have a largish store here, too, but Tesco is definitely the dominant player. Aldi and Lidl currently have one store each with the latter wishing to open a second. Then there is the Co-op, a lot less important now that it pulled out of its largest store at Inshes (adjacent to the famous roundabout) and was replaced there by Tesco some years ago to provide its 2nd largest store. However, I've not heard there is particular public outcry about Asda not having to pay for the road, although I suppose if people think about it they would be happy if they did pay, but general outcry - no, I've not heard anything about that. It is clear the LibDems are trying to whip up public feeling on the matter, though, but with little success so far in my view. People want Asda. As the Meerkat would say - simples ;)

    As for 'bad faith' by Asda, I think this is nonsense. They had tentatively agreed to comply with Highland Council's condition when it granted approval, in opposition to its own planning officials recommendation, to general applause from the public - then the Scottish Executive 'called in' the project, I imagine because of the fact that the approval does in fact (as in Nairn) go against the now rather outdated Local Plan, this last no doubt the basis on which the planning officials chose to recommend rejection, so that Edinburgh could 'adjudicate' what was best. Edinburgh has now decided, saying that it is not possible to 'impose' a condition on Asda that they must contribute to road improvements - why would any business in its right mind want to simply give money away? I'm afraid i'm no kind of 'socialist' - I prefer to see businesses operate according to law and to comply with what the legal authorities granting permissions such as planning permission require of them and I have no doubt that Asda will do so, no more no less. As I mentioned earlier, the real key to this is to examine whether there is a basis in law to challenge the Scottish Executive's decision, which as you will see from the link below is under study by Highland Council at present.

    The local LibDem MP is a nice fellow, works hard I have no doubt, but in my humble opinion a lot of his activity is self-promotion for narrow political purposes - the usual LibDem tactic, I am not criticising him particularly, but I think their whole campaign is a little contrived.

    Here's the link to an article on the matter in today's Inverness Courier:
    http://www.inverness-courier.co.uk/news/fullstory.php/aid/10181/Asda_ignores_plea_over_roads_cash_contribution.html

    Cheers!
    Bill

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  9. Ta' for that, Bill. I really should pay more attention to local events.

    The sort of business which should part with money without a direct profit is, in my view, a responsible one. I remain a loyal capitalist, but there's capitalism and Capitalism... the local employment which Asda would offer is to be welcomed, but ultimately customers will be paying 'em for the honour of buying their wares whilst employees would be receiving pay only in return for their labour.

    Willingly donating £1.5 millions for the sorely needed road improvements would be an alturistic act, akin the 19th Century mill-owners - hardly socialists - who constructed factory villages to better the lots of their workers.

    Are you referring to Danny Alexander or John Thurso? I have long-standing objections to what the LibDems have become - a haunt for political cranks and loonies and neo-puritans operating under the bizarre misapprehension that they're moderates - but, whilst I know less about Alexander, Thurso very much comes across as a classical Liberal.

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  10. Hi 'efrafanday'

    I'll take your word for it that you are a 'loyal capitalist', but I do find that a little difficult to reconcile with this:

    ... whilst employees would be receiving pay only in return for their labour

    which reads like something straight out of The Communist Manifesto, candidly ;) I have a very different idea of what capitalism is all about in a modern post-industrial economy. And however tempting it might be, I'm not going to follow you down the route of comparing employees in today's UK with those in a 19th century mill-town run by an enlightened owner; as you say there were a number of owners in those days who, partly for reasons of pure altruism, but also from enlightened self-interest provided their employees with a better level of working conditions than many of their contemporaries. But social conditions are very different today.

    I hold no special brief for Asda, but it is a fact that I have noticed over many years that staff there always seem much more cheerful and friendly than in other supermarket chains (with the exception of Waitrose, but perhaps for the same reason - read on) and I have put this down to better staff training because they certainly aren't paid any more, I understand, than in other chains. It may also have something to do with, ahem, the fact that employees in Asda, where they are I believe known as colleagues, receive stock options as part of their remuneration package once they are permanent staff - I knew someone a few years back who worked for them at Elgin who explained it to me. He had a pretty lowly job, but always seemed to me extremely loyal to the firm - I half-jokingly asked him once if they put something special in the water in the staff rooms!

    I refer to Danny Alexander - he is my MP (I live in Nairn). John Thurso's 'fief' is way north of here. The only thing I know about him is that he was once the chairman of the health-farm Champney's, where it so happens I have spent a couple of weeks as a guest (patient?) in years gone by in attempts to lose weight and learn better eating habits; I thoroughly enjoyed both my stays there, incidentally - a bit of pampering whilst being 'starved' never did anyone any harm! ;)

    Ah well, the LibDems - a conundrum wrapped in a mystery, or something; I've never felt very certain that if they didn't exist already that anyone would have considered it necessary to invent them. Maybe after the next election, when Labour are 'wiped out' (they hope), their time might have come? It happened in the early 1920s (a party being effectively wiped-out) so I suppose it might again.

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