There was a good turnout at the march against proposals for our local college to sell their site in Marple to a supermarket. I've been wrestling with a couple of the arguments against the protestors, I think they are worth airing.
The first is that this campaign is hypocritical. That the protestors do their "big shop" in big supermarkets away from Marple, supermarkets that will have had the same ruinous effect on other communities. There will, to be fair, be plenty of evidence of this, there will be research to say that people round here do go to other supermarkets. I know they do. We do. There IS an argument against all big supermarkets, but this isn't it. At issue is the suitability of this location. Contained within this objection is the inevitable accusation of Nimbyism. You have to take this one on the chin. Of course people directly affected by noise, disruption and compulsory purchase orders will object to it. But look again, that's not why most people are opposed.
Another argument against the protestors is that some competition is needed against the monopoloy of the Co-operative in Marple. A large supermarket on a site the size of the huge Hibbert Lane campus would provide a shabby and overpriced small supermarket with competition. It may even be that the Co-operative have opposed other applications by Tesco, Asda or Sainsbury's to open a store in Marple, even on a site their group owns. Firstly, I don't dispute the competition argument at all. There is a retail core in Marple that contains multiples like Boots, Superdrug, Iceland as well as independent retailers. I'm sure the local traders wouldn't be doing cartwheels about a Tesco Express, or a Sainsbury's Local (similar to the one in Romiley), but again, that's not the issue here. Personally, I'd welcome more retailers stimulating the core. It would attract people to the other businesses. This proposal, the price tag on such a large piece of land, however, offers only the potential to simply attract people in their cars to a big tin shed, and then leave again. A splinter of this view, by the way, is the economic determinism of big retail. That their march is inevitable and irresistable. I don't even think the big supermarkets have that view any more.
The third argument I came up against was about the place needing to be "livened up" as the youngsters went elsewhere. I must admit, I'm all in favour of any amount of livening up of the right kind, but I don't see how a massive supermarket is an attraction for young people. I used to marvel at how so many pie shops and sandwich bars were supported. This is because of the 6th Form College, it would appear. I'd rather there were educational opportunities here, than over there, that this community imported, rather than exported young people.
The fourth argument is about the importance of jobs and investment, that Marple is getting major investment that should be welcomed. I agree that the council have a responsibility to discuss opportunities with employers and investors. But it's also about the right ones in the right places. This is the wrong place.
An offshoot of this view is that the collapse of the housing market leaves the college with no other options? Even if you accept that view, and I don't, then I'm sorry, but this really isn't our problem. There are a number of reasons why Cheadle & Marple College need to juggle their estate. There will also be a range of commercial barriers to how that process is managed. One of them will have to be the unsuitability of Marple for large retail.
Finally, there are various comments that split hairs on the issue. There are debates, mainly on the Marple messageboard, over politics and tactics. Let's face it, any campaign will have these and in the internet age, this has been amplified 1000 fold. Then there are discordant views that because various things are wrong with what we have in Marple, so it then follows that this is a conservative campaign that seeks to protect the mediocre and defend the mistakes of the past. Mistakes in planning and architecture have been made, of course they have, nobody is saying this is some kind of utopian community. But if this campaign succeeds, then it will also serve to remind everyone about what we have and how it is "that we are where we are". It is a massive generational opportunity to debate what kind of community we want to have in Marple. And I think the local council (the officials and the politicians), need to bear that in mind as they decide in secret what they think is best.
So, if you arrived here thinking this was a pro-supermarket change of heart, I notionally apologise. But only a bit. I called it "the arguments for" because that's what it is addressing. As you can see, none of them have swayed me. In fact, of all of the above, the only one I hesitated on was the first. Well, an element of it. Our Friday night chat on the Rose Hill flier pondered a few "what ifs" about who would build on the site. If it was a big ugly Tesco or Asda, then it is an easy side to take. I wouldn't trust them as far as I could throw them. But what if Booths or Waitrose had their eye on it? I would love a Booths here. I would love the prestige it would bring to the area. No question. But the fact remains, this site is off the centre. This site is unsuitable for big retail. This site is large. There is still much to be done in the centre. Booths and Waitrose would be welcome in Marple. But not on Hibbert Lane.