Monday, 6 August 2012

Taking on Tescopoly in Brixton Hill

I spent Sunday afternoon talking to local shopkeepers - and their customers - on Brixton Hill about Tesco’s plans to open an Express store on the site of the current historic George IV Music Bar. This quirky turreted building is a landmark to all local residents.

What these shopkeepers reported to me was the detrimental impact that the two existing Sainsbury’s Local stores on the upper reaches of the hill - within a few hundred metres of each other -  had already had on their businesses. Many fear what the addition of a further big supermarket local store would mean for the long-term viability of independent shops such as theirs.

Meanwhile, the customers of these stores say that Brixton Hill cannot sustain another yet another supermarket. They fear the loss of their local store, which provides a real sense of community and where they interact with real people rather than a soulless automated checkout. And they see a further erosion of the character of their local community. 

Not just that, but the loss of another local character pub, a place not just to drink and be merry, but a space which can double up as so many other things: community meeting place, arts and music venue, a centre for learning...the possibilities are almost endless.

George IV Music Bar: Locals fear the loss of another character pub on Brixton Hill

The decline of Brixton’s pubs has been well-documented by the excellent community portal Urban75. The George IV, at 144 Brixton Hill, is just down the hill from another former stalwart of the local pub scene, The Telegraph, which went out of business back in 2010. Clearly the George IV has been struggling, having undergone an unsuccessful rebranding as Southside before its current incarnation as Music Bar.

There’s some great advice pages on the internet for communities trying to save local pubs, for instance at the aforementioned Urban75 and at CAMRA. It’s certainly not an easy time for pubs, but there have been successful campaigns up and down the country. If you want to save the George IV or other pubs like it in the area, then these seem like good places to start. 

As a member of the Lambeth Green Party I share the concerns expressed to me by local shopkeepers and their customers, and I want to do something about them. I therefore urge you so sign the petition to stop Tesco in its tracks: We’re nearly at our 1,000 signature target, but we’d like to exceed it to really bring home to Tesco and Lambeth Borough Council, the real extent of local opposition. You can also sign a paper petition in many local shops along Brixton Hill. If you’d like to help with the campaign, there’s a number of ways you can contact us. You can write to me personally at, or contact us via Twitter or Facebook.

I live on Wingford Road (behind Brixton Prison), and already have two Sainsbury’s Local stores in well under half a mile: at 76 Brixton Hill, and at 266-270 Brixton Hill and in total I have seven Sainsbury’s stores within a mile of me. It’s clear I’m more than well catered for by a big supermarket. But to add to that I’ve got a Tesco Express within a quarter of a mile - at 30 Streatham Place - and a total of five Tescos within a mile. So doing the sums, that’s three supermarket stores within half a mile and a total of 12 within a mile. The figures speak of complete madness. There’s no community or customer case for more. It seems to me that the only reason for Tesco to seek to open yet another store is to play catch-up with Sainsbury’s. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking sides here. I don’t think there should be more stores from any of the big supermarkets in this area.

The Sainsbury's Local store on the corner of Lambert Road and Brixton Hill.  The area is more than catered for by big supermarkets.

A letter of consultation (here’s the 2nd page) has been sent out by Matt Magee, Tesco Corporate Affairs Manager, apparently to local residents and businesses. The disturbing thing is that few of the local shopkeepers I spoke to seemed to have received it. And I haven’t received it either. I will be writing to Tesco today to try to understand why many local people - whose lives will be affected by the store - have not been contacted. I will also be asking if they have carried out any kind of local impact assessment.

Furthermore I’m trying to establish contact with the owners of the George IV to try to understand their reasons for selling up and if anything can be done to help them keep it as a pub.

Tesco’s letter is a bit threadbare and makes some questionable assertions. It says that “about” 20 local full and part-time jobs will be created. But how many will be lost elsewhere as a result of this? It claims that staff in its stores act as “a deterrent to anti-social behaviour”, even though, unlike may staff employed by pubs, they are not trained in dealing with anti-social behaviour. The basis on which the Tesco store will therefore act as a deterrent seems tenuous. Unfortunately Tesco says it already has permission to operate the site as a convenience store, and that all that remains is for it to get council approval for the removal of railings, turning the beer garden into a car park, adding signage etc. I’ve looked at planning applications currently before the council on its database and Tesco certainly hasn’t put in applications for everything it wants to do. 

We have a fight on our hands - clearly. It’s much easier for Tesco to buy a property - even if it does fall within a conservation area - and make some minor alterations than try to build something from scratch on a brownfield site. We need to show up at the next meeting of the council’s planning committee and raise our objections, but above all we need to show the strength of feeling there is in this wonderful Brixton Hill community of our. We need to deliver a petition with thousands of names and we need to protest and we need to make it clear to Tesco that it will not be receiving our custom. 

There is hope. Go to the website of campaign group Tescopoly and you’ll find plenty of sources of inspiration in campaigns won against the desire and might of the big supermarkets. But we must organise. Again, sign the petition here: and get in touch with either myself, or contact us via Twitter or Facebook

Thanks for your support.

Andrew Child
Lambeth Green Party

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