Asda in Cinderford? Not in my name!

NOASDAIn all my days of activism, I never thought I’d see a pro-supermarket campaign on my doorstep. To twist the knife further, it’s Asda they’re fighting for, though it seems to be more of an anti-Co-Op protest than anything else – and, at times, swamped with dirty tricks.

Cinderford is a small market town located in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. The Forest has a long tradition of strong community and is legendary for taking no prisoners when it comes to the crown, state and government interfering in affairs here. They even told the Chartists to bugger off as they were doing fine, thank you very much!

So what on earth would trigger a protest FOR an Asda in a town with a population of around 10,000, two supermarkets already (Co-Op and Lidl) and some quality local independent traders? Cheap milk, nappies and ‘choice’, it seems. Not sure how they’ll feel when the only choice will be whether to drive, get the bus or walk to the edge of town development proposal. Personally, I’ll be peed off!

I remember when the whole Cinderford regeneration effort started. A big wadge of dosh was laid on the table, and very quickly appeared to get consumed for the most part on consultation by out of town suits. So we have a few pretty bike racks with leaves on and some altered paving. Seems to me that there’s been a severe imagination bypass!

The First Stop Local shop scheme had a lot of promise – shop front grants for tired looking buildings, a Rewards Card for customers with different incentives and discounts offered by many of the Forest’s independent businesses. The Trader’s Association was reborn, The Forester newspaper was on side, town centre Fun Days were organised and some empty units were even filled. Business rates were lowered for non-chain shops and it really felt like a turning point for this tired little town.

Still, underneath all of this, planning permission continued to be given for yet more takeaways and shop units to be turned into flats. No demands were made by the council on those that monopolise the ownership of town centre units for cheaper shop rents or even subsidies offered to bring in those who would ‘fill the gaps’, and most people continued to shop out of town.

Tesco made a bid for the Cinderford Rugby ground, situated next door to the Co-Op. I remember how many folks were opposed to that, including  some councillors, though not all officially. They didn’t get permission in the end due to access issues, though if you were to take notice of what the pro-Asda folks have to say about that, the Co-Op stopped them coming. They did seemingly have the final say as Tesco wanted to cut into their land, but I think you’d have to call that fair game. If next door had wanted to cut through my shop to lead the way into them selling similar stuff , and forfeiting quality and ethics for price, I’d feel the same!

The bulk of the regeneration incentive seems to lie with bringing big business in to pay for it, but at the cost of what?

Planning permission has been granted for this huge edge of town site over a Sainsbury’s proposal in another, and seemingly more suitable, part of town. One can’t help but wonder if that had anything to do with the Asda proposition being closer to the whole Northern Quarter development. A separate issue on the surface, but plans to fell a chunk of Forest and run a road through an area of extreme importance in terms of endangered wildlife to effectively build a brand new Cinderford centre outside of town are afoot. Play has currently been stopped by the Police Wildlife Unit thanks to the pressure from various wildlife groups, much to the disgruntlement of Cllr. Graham Morgan, who is now chairman of the Regeneration Board. Interestingly, that story is no longer online, but you can keep informed and find full details on the Friends of Northern United Facebook page.

The Co-Op put in a judicial review application to try and stop the development, but the application was refused on grounds of time, ie. they took too long to put it in. The Co-Op had a couple of  days to appeal and have done so, requesting an oral hearing. Now some campaigners are threatening to boycott the Co-Op, with little regard for the fact that it’s a major employer in these parts. The Forester have just published a piece on it.

There is now a No to Asda campaign, which I fully support, though it’s obviously a shame that we weren’t all on the ball with it earlier! Too much of that protesting against the government cuts stuff going on everywhere for us to focus on immediate issues on our doorsteps, methinks. Sadly, within hours of the page appearing on Facebook, it was submitted to a barrage of abuse, and even some threats, from pro-Asda supporters. Not very community spirited, is it?!  Seems to me that the No page is about raising awareness and offering a different perspective. They have also set up an online petition against Asda and will be out on the streets with it soon.

The ‘We Want Asda’ campaign appears to be mostly run on a Facebook group with the odd meeting in a local pub. It boasts just over 1500 members which covers about 10% of the population of Cinderford and surrounding villages. We all know that you can’t gauge anything by FB numbers though, right? Their first march through town was reasonably successful, though not really representative of the ‘majority’ as it claims, with a turnout of around 200. They held one in Coleford, a neighbouring town, with around 9 people, then hit Cinderford’s streets again a couple of weeks ago and their numbers had dwindled to around 20, including several children. They claim 50 or 60 turned out, but it didn’t look like that from where I was.

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I interviewed Adrian Lane via Facebook. He’s a Cheltenham man living in Coleford, who was, up until the last march, the leader of the pro-Asda campaign. He apparently stepped down to ‘focus on his family’, though I’m guessing that it had more to do with the fact that he was exposed on HTV News for being a bit of a dirty trickster. He had been posting rather stalky photos taken around the town and screenshots from personal Facebook accounts of Co-Op employees, stating that he was going to report them among other things. The only times I’ve heard of campaigners disappearing mid-campaign are either through exhaustion, or they’ve been on a payroll and been taken off. Not suggesting anything here, mind. Anyway, here’s what he had to say, or not in some cases..

Me: ‘I’m curious as to why a Coleford resident, one who I believe fought the Co-Op there with the Tesco proposal, would be so interested in Asda in Cinderford?’

Adrian Lane: ‘It is nothing to do with me being a resident of Coleford, it is about what I and others believ will be good for the Forest of Dean as a whole. I was not part of the campaign to do with Tesco in Cinderford’

Me: ‘So this wasn’t you? (I was referring to Coleford, not Cinderford.)’ – link to Adrian’s piece in the Mid Devon Advertiser

Adrian Lane: (no reply)

Me: ‘Are you planning to shop there? And encourage others to do so?’

Adrian Lane: ‘I would shop there if Asda was built in Cinderford, yes, it if for people to decide themselves were they shop, we just want choice, the Midcounties Co Operative have the monopoly in the Forest of Dean’

Me: ‘I can’t see how the Co-Op have a monopoly? There is a Lidl in Cinderford and a Tesco in Lydney? Their store in Coleford is also very small? Would it not be better for the Forest if we boosted independent trading over brand names?’

Adrian Lane: (no reply)

Me: ‘Have you considered the small businesses in both towns at all?’

Adrian Lane: ‘Yes we have considered the small business in the towns, some are for it and some are against it, I spent a morning going around Cinderford talking to the traders, a majority feel that the town is finished anyway, other felt that Asda would hurt there trade, some believe it will breath new life into the town.’

Me: ‘There is a nationwide proven track record of small towns declining both in independent shops and in general economy when large multi-national corporations take a stranglehold.’

Adrian Lane: (no response)

Me: ‘Do you know, or care, about the unethical background and practices of Asda Walmart?’

Adrian Lane: (no reply)

Me: ‘Were you aware of the Boycott Walmart campaign in America? That their employment, buying and production ethics are beyond abominable? If so, does this concern you?’

Adrian Lane: (still no reply)

Me: ‘Do you consider offering sweeteners such as ‘free balloons and sweets for kids’ or paying for adverts in the local press normal protest tactics?’

Adrian Lane: ‘I do not see a problem with putting an advert in the local whats section, other events are listed on there. Last time a lot of people brought children along, as a sign of our appreciation we offered the sweets and balloons for the children, it is not a tactic to get more kids there’

Me: ‘Do you have a personal gripe with the Co-Op?’

Adrian Lane: ‘I do not have a personal gripe with the Midcounties Co Operative, i am unhappy that they want to stop big name supermarkets coming to the town of Cinderford & the Forest of Dean. We are an unemployment blackspot, this development would create 200 plus jobs, with people earning £1.5M in salary, of which a lot would go back into the local economy.’

Me:  ‘Asda is renowned for it’s poor working conditions and ethics. It will also bring some staff from other areas with it, and the jobs it will create will be destroyed elsewhere. They also use the Workfare scheme, which amounts to slave labour. You don’t have any problems with any of that?The economic boost figures are clever wording by Asda’s number crunchers. I can’t knock their PR though. It’s obviously worked on you.’

Adrian Lane: (no reply)

Me: ‘As a seasoned activist, I’m concerned by some of your tactics, especially the posting of photographs and screenshots of Co-Op employees. Can you justify that?’

Adrian Lane: (no reply)

***

I guess that it can only be a good thing for their campaign that he has disappeared off the face of the earth. I did try to interview other admin from the group in order to shed a fairer light on their campaign, assuming that tactically their direction had changed, but they declined.

I have interviewed members of the No Asda campaign, but will blog that separately. Their statement is pretty clear, though :-

This is one battle we don’t want to have to fight, but a concerned group of us in Cinderford and surrounding areas have had to, to counter what we consider as a divisive campaign against a co-operative company owned by the community, in favour of the world’s biggest retailer, Asda, owned by the American corporation, Walmart. The Asda price may be cheaper, but that’s because of the exploitation of producers both in Britain and abroad, predatory pricing and loss-leaders to wipe out any retail opposition, and lower pay and poor conditions for its workforce (earning on average 20% less than other stores). We don’t think the personal savings of consumers are worth this exploitation, as well as the likelihood of killing off independent shops and the Co-op – a large local employer.

We have come out in opposition to Asda to counter the claim of pro-Asda campaigners, repeated in the media, that they speak for the town and Forest of Dean. They do not. We also welcome debate for and against the Asda proposal off Valley Road in Cinderford, and will not censor comments unless they are obviously abusive, libellous or personal. The campaigners want to send a message to the media, councillors, and the Co-op store that everyone wants Asda. We consider it would be a disaster for the town and Forest of Dean.If you don’t want Cinderford to turn into a ghost town, and want to preserve the independence of the Forest from multinational sharks to the detriment of future prosperity, then make yourself heard!’

***

I don’t have any personal gripes with those that support Asda coming. In times of such unnecessary cuts and crucifixion of services and benefits coming from the government, it’s fairly natural for folks to worry about money and think of themselves first with short term solutions. I just feel rather sad to see such a divide caused by a multi-national corporation along with bad planning in a once solid community who have fought off and won against those that wish to force this unique area into becoming as controlled and impotent as almost everywhere else. No doubt I’ll be accused of wanting to keep Cinderford in the dark ages, when actually I think it has massive potential to be at the forefront of community independence.

Having seen many community co-operatives spring up over the last few years with some amazing success, including a Food Sovereignty Co-op in the Forest, I’ve set up a Cinderford Community Shop Project group. It’s only on Facebook so far in order to gauge interest, but hopefully will expand and be fruitful. The big argument from pro-Asda campaigners seems to be about price and choice along with so much not being available in the town. Let’s see how many folks are willing to put some time and energy into that, rather than the quick fix, rather lazy outlook that Asda will make it all better.

It won’t.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Richard on December 6, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    The tesco bid was brought to a stop when the co-op offered a 10 year sponsership deal to the rugby club in return for it pulling out of the land sale, the access issue had been resolved!

    Reply

    • ‘Tesco’s history with Cinderford goes back to 1997 when it won planning permission to build a 35,000sqft store off Valley Road, but it was called in by then-environment secretary John Prescott and was thrown out after a public inquiry.

      Its second attempt, at a store on Cinderford RFC’s Dockham Road ground, got planning permission in 2006 but was thwarted in the High Court in May 2007 when neighbours, the Co-op, won a judicial review because it owned land needed for an access road into the site.’

      http://www.thisisgloucestershire.co.uk/Tesco-says-Cinderford/story-12972520-detail/story.html

      Reply

      • Posted by Richard on December 6, 2012 at 6:43 pm

        you missed the last bit off when you copied and pasted! “An agreement with the rugby club then fell through when the club entered into a 10-year sponsorship deal with Tesco rival Co-op, scuppering their plans for development.”

      • Does your internet let you see things that I can’t then?

  2. Posted by Richard on December 7, 2012 at 12:12 am

    obviously, you also forgot the bit about Bruce Hogan (co-op sponsored councillor) refering the first application to the then environment minister John Prescott (co-op sponsored MP) part of a labour government containing about 30 co-op sponsered MPs! did any of those declare an interest? No!

    Reply

  3. Not sure I forgot anything, Richard? What the Co-op has or hasn’t done bears no reflection on how I feel about a major supermarket coming..

    Reply

  4. Reblogged this on NoAsdainCinderford and commented:
    Blog from a local resident and No Asda campaign supporter, including an interview with the ‘leader of the opposition’.

    Reply

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