The Parklands estate in Chichester is a cracking example of what is right in this country.
Boasting two superb schools, two thriving churches, an active and effective residents association and a variety of local shops, community spirit is alive and well here. The government keeps banging on about the Big Society, but Parklands has been a living example of Cameron’s ideal for years.
This is why Southern Co-operative shouldn’t be allowed to open a store on the site of the Inn on the Green pub – a view shared by the majority of Parklands residents, who at a public meeting were overwhelmingly against the proposal.
I normally support free market thinking and entrepreneurship, but in this case it would come at too steep a price: jobs cuts and the killing of flourishing local businesses. Compared to many large retail operations Southern Co-operative has decent ethics. But if they open an outlet in Parklands, and Chichester District Council grants them a licence, the parade of shops at the heart of the community will be under serious threat.
For those who don’t know the Ridgeway Parade at Parklands it comprises a newsagent/post office, chemist, butcher, takeaway, Costcutter convenience store, hair salon and betting shop.
For decades it’s operated using a covenant system, meaning businesses do not compete against each other. The opening of a mini supermarket adjacent to the parade would obliterate this. The sight of another boarded-up pub would be depressing, but I would much rather see an empty pub than an entire parade of boarded-up shops.
If Southern Co-operative is granted a licence a combination of buying power (which will allow them to significantly undercut the other businesses) and hard promotion will see the existing shops hit by a drop in custom that could well result in closure.
Small businesses are already struggling with escalating rates, soaring power and water bills and reams of red tape. The last thing they need is a neighbour with such deep pockets that it can run at a loss until a customer base is established. It seems the key lies in the hands of the licensing committee of Chichester District Council.
I doubt very much that any major retailer would take the site if they could not sell alcohol.
The Co-op themselves have said they would not open an outlet unless a licence was granted.
I urge councillors to do the right thing: turn down the licence application.
To say ‘yes’ to the Co-op (or any other major retailer) would be to snuff out a much-loved, well-used part of Chichester. If Dave’s Big Society is to stand a chance, little communities like Parklands need to be heard.