Thursday, 26 May 2011

Full text of Kevin McCloud's letter in the Standard

It now seems likely that the Saxonvale site in Frome will be sold to St James, a development company which is the agent for Tesco; and it seems unlikely that Tesco would want to develop the site other than for one of their supermarkets.
So how many supermarkets do we need in Frome? And how many Tescos in Somerset? There are already three major Tesco stores and half a dozen Express outlets within a 12-mile radius.
Frome is undergoing a period of great change. It is finding its voice (10 of its councillors were recently elected on an Independent for Frome ticket) and quickly evolving, along with a small and noble band of towns like Brighton and Totnes, into a very 21st century community that places sustainability at its centre.
We should not damage the potential for this exciting change by passively allowing the rebuilding of Frome's core sites by remote and aggressive developers, nor by supermarkets. The supporters of more big retail development say that Frome needs to compete with Trowbridge. But it already is competing, in a unique way, through the growth of dozens of small independent retailers who flourish here, that include the national award-winning Whiterow Farm Shop and the shops of Catherine Hill and Cheap Street.

We will not create distinctive local towns that thrive economically and are a pleasure to live in if we make them all identikit places devoid of local businesses. If you want to see what happens when Tesco congregate big retail brands on one of their sites in a market town, take a ride to Shepton Mallet where the life has been sucked out of the town centre.
In the spirit of local enterprise – which seems to do so well in Frome – we should all be fighting off the likes of Tesco and other big retail, supporting the council, writing to our MP and reminding those in power that big commercial proposals for small towns run counter to the Government's agenda for localism and the Big Society.
The development of the Saxonvale site near the centre of Frome is a great opportunity which will not arise again in our lifetimes and it's an opportunity which should be given to local people.
As Frome changes it is attracting more creative businesses and becoming even more sustainable, more distinctive and more special. We must not allow anyone to damage its wonderful potential.


  1. Kevin makes several excellent points, many of which I agree with. However, while a SMALL PART of the town is "quickly evolving, along with a small and noble band of towns like Brighton and Totnes", LARGE SECTIONS of the town and the community are not.

    I love the independent shops in Frome, but find it very annoying that those who have moved to the town in recent years seem to think that they've saved the culture-less locals from some dreaded small-town homogeny. Have these people ever dared to wander outside of Catherine Hill on a weekday afternoon? Have they ever attempted to speak to anyone other than their 'artisan' friends, perhaps even some people who have lived in the town for longer than five minutes?

    Frome has a significant poor indigenous community and they are patronised by Kevin and his ilk on a seemingly daily basis. Many, many people in Frome do want to compete with Trowbridge in terms of large retailers, particularly when it comes to clothing, and free parking. What's wrong with that? Can't we find some happy medium, whereby these people are catered for and the independent shops continue to thrive?

    If a large Tesco comes to town, that may be to the detriment of local shops, but if a medium-sized store is built, hopefully other national retailers will come to the town too. People in the town have been asking for this for many years.

    Tesco may be able to hammer down the the price on everyday goods, but it cannot offer the service or eclectic choice that our independent retailers can. To survive, independent shops need to offer something different. That's what makes them unique. Long may they thrive in Frome.

  2. Hello Anonymous

    I’m one of “those” people who have moved to Frome recently. I came here 5 years ago and simply love living here and hope that I don’t ever have to move away. One of the main reasons I feel this way is that in my whole life of over 6 decades I have never felt so much part of the community that I live in as I do here in Frome. I have wonderful neighbours on both sides who between them have clocked up over 150 years of living in Frome, 2 of the 4 having started life here. Amongst my friends and acquaintances there are some who have only just arrived and some who like my neighbours have lived here all their lives. I’m still exploring Frome and finding new places but I’ve gone a long way beyond just Catharine Hill and the artisans that you speak of. Most of the people that I know who have moved here frome elsewhere feel the same way - that they love Frome and its community and want to remain being part of it. And because I feel this way I want to give something back to this community for its generosity in making me feel at home here - and I do this to the best of my ability.

    However, were Saxonvale to be developed into a Frome version of the middle of Trowbridge I would despair and would find my love of Frome severely tested. I think there is something wrong with a Tesco Superstore and a large car park in the centre of this town. That thing is first of all the increase in traffic that this will bring us with its disadvantages to all of those who live here of noise and fumes.

    I think I agree with Anonymous though about the “happy medium”. I actually miss having the Cooperative/Somerfield shop in the middle of town where I can go to get the kind of groceries and other stuff that the independent shops don’t have - instead of going to Asda or Sainsburys. Its the size of this “medium” that we need to get right - and the danger that the Tesco option is that it will bulldoze its way to a store of the wrong size for Frome. Thats why I think that all of us who live in Frome - newcomers and old timers - should tell the developers that we want our happy medium solution and not their superstore solution which for us will not be super, but will be here for a long time.

    Tim Cutting

  3. So we agree Tim!
    I just think people such as Kevin need to realise that Frome is not all fair trade and organic and lots of people don't think like him. Indeed, as I said above, I find his tone and that of many members of Saxonvale Concern patronising, as if they are savours of our town and that the indigenous residents would be lost without self-appointed guardians such as himself.
    A medium sized store and other national retailers would seem to be a solution that suits most people. Frome is unique and we should keep it that way, but we shouldn't get left behind either. We can't all afford/want to shop in boutique, niche shops.

  4. How about if the so-called indigenous poor of the town (on whose behalf Anonymous seems speaking), actively campaigned for their superstore? That way, we wouldn't have to worry about whether or not they were being patronised.

  5. Perhaps they don't want to campaign David? Not everyone is politically motivated. As I say, ask around (perhaps outside your social circle), people have been asking for a development of national retailers for many years.

    Statements such as "so-called indigenous poor" are exactly the type of patronising comments I was talking about! I particularly love the implication that they don't exist. You win the condescending comment of the day award.

  6. Okay, Anonymous. So-called, because that's how you chose to label this mythical bunch of people who are desperate for some sweated labour clothing and whom the chicken-livered artisans of the town are supposed to regard as culture-less. I just need to get this right: your term, "poor indigenous community" isn't condescending but my "so-called indigenous poor" is. What about the non-indigenous poor? Don't they count? And suggesting that I haven't asked around or only know about my own social circle (whatever that is) isn't condescending or patronising either, I suppose.

  7. David,
    You can choose to acknowledge these people or not, that's up to you. But they're here. And they've been crying out for high street-name shops (particularly clothes shops) for many, many years. This is a fact and if you choose to ignore that, while you look down your nose at these people (or even maintain that they don't exist), then that's up to you.

    I hope that these people's needs and wants are catered for in the Saxonvale development and that they are not brushed under the carpet by those who shout loudest. I also hope that Frome's diverse and thriving independent shops continue to thrive, as the arts and crafts movement within the town is part of what makes it great.
    However, I wish that the people who are the driving force behind this independent movement would realise and recognise that it's not the only part of the town and, just as it is celebrated by a large parts of the community, so it is not embraced by other large numbers of the community. And it's the latter group that I think should not be (and is all too often) ignored.

    And I think I'll leave it there. Goodbye.

  8. "I wish that the people who are the driving force behind this independent movement would realise and recognise that it's not the only part of the town and, just as it is celebrated by a large parts of the community, so it is not embraced by other large numbers of the community."

    We do, we do. It's a shame so much of the noise around this debate is based on stereotypes and straw men.

  9. Please don't go yet, Anonymous, at least not before you've read my comments more carefully and checked your own for crass assumptions.