One topic that always gets people talking in Easingwold (my local town) is the subject of a supermarket – what is happening, are we getting one, what do people want – they’re all questions that I thought I’d look into.
The development of Easingwold over recent years has been huge, housing developments are popping up everywhere and as a result, our population is now approaching five thousand people. The figures are very much neck-and-neck with our nearby market town, Thirsk.
The Easingwold Town Council Plan reflects this, as they record the dwelling growth of Easingwold. From 2007-2012 it was up by 11%, from 2012-2017 this rose to 16%, and now, if all approved and planned housing is built by 2022, the growth rate from 2017-2022 will have had a 25% increase. “This has been driving a massive housing development in Easingwold in recent years” with the Stillington road and York road sites being the most prominent developments in the last few years.
This growth in housing, and consequently a population rise, hasn’t really been reflected by the commercial side to Easingwold, as the plan says: “our population has soared, yet our commercial area has been strangled.”
This subject has been prominent in Easingwold for years, and rightly so. It can seem confusing that Thirsk, which is similar in population to us, has three big supermarkets, as well as a number of petrol stations, yet Easingwold has neither of these basic amenities.
It didn’t take much to get people’s opinions on this, unsurprisingly. My findings were that 71% of people, ranging in ages, were in favour of Easingwold having a supermarket. Arguments for having one centred around convenience, creating jobs, having more choice, and improving value for money.
The frustration was obvious, as a number of people stressed: “New houses seem to be appearing year by year but the facilities don’t seem to be expanding to suit the need of the local town” whilst someone else exclaimed: “Easingwold can no longer keep building new housing without a supermarket!”
People stressed that “the small shops cannot handle the larger population” and consequently people are having to travel to Thirsk, Boroughbridge, or Clifton Moor, for the larger stores – something that not only takes more time, but means people are using more petrol to carry out weekly tasks, so therefore it has an impact on the environment too.
Another point kept being repeated; the struggle to get to the supermarket without access to a car. One respondent said: “The local stores have a poor range of products and are more expensive than the larger supermarkets. This disproportionately affects lower income families in Easingwold that maty not have access to a car.”
Bus services mean that you are limited to Thirsk really, but even then, the reality of getting a supermarket shop back home by bus is a nightmare, especially if you’re on your own. Having a supermarket close by would not only make life easier for people without a car, but the older community too – “If you are elderly or need to rely purely on public transport, you’re limited.”
Of course the arguments against having a supermarket focused on the impact it would have on our independent traders, and that because of that, a big chain supermarket simply isn’t needed. Moreover, the worry of traders going out of business would alter the market town charm that Easingwold is known for.
Someone said: “A supermarket would compete against independents and spoil the nature of the market town.”
A respondent urged people: “Shop local and support local people, we have plenty of shops already.”
The response to this side was that our independent shops serve a different purpose to a supermarket, so both structures could survive in Easingwold. One person spoke of the balance: “I can’t get a weekly shop for a decent price in Easingwold, but nor can I get artisan breads, local honey or cheeses from a supermarket, there is still a place for both.”
So that covers the opinions of the people, but now let’s look at what actually happened, because you might remember that planning permission for a supermarket and petrol station was granted in 2014 – so where is it?
Jomast Development gained the contract set to take shape on Stillington Road, and the company said what a “significant boost to the local economy” it would be. Adam Hearld, the Development Director, stressed that the changes would “provide the town with a much greater retail, health and housing provision as well as new employment opportunities.”
The plans were followed closely, with plenty of articles on it, but the trail went cold very quickly, and since then – shockingly now 6 years ago – we’re still without a supermarket.
Traders at the time were asked about their thoughts on the developments, with the overall response being of acceptance. Ken Thorton, the local butcher said how “there is still a place for us but a supermarket here is bound to have an impact; they always do.” Whilst Mart Taylor, the deli owner, said how he wasn’t worried, “Easingwold is a lovely town, but it needs a lift, something to draw people.”
Another said how all other towns have a supermarket now, so it isn’t surprising that we were set to get one. But these comments were made a few years ago, and now time has passed and we still don’t have one.
I spoke to Tim Wood, from Hambleton District Council, and he straightened everything out for me. He said how the whole story is “an interesting example of awfully bad timing.”
He spoke about a ‘leakage’ coming from Easingwold because of people having to travel to do their weekly shop. “The provision of a larger food store could reduce that leakage, keeping more spend within the town. If a store of the right size was opened and in the right location it would be expected to keep activity in the town and would result in more spend in the independent retail units too and not detract from their trade.”
However, just as the planning permission went through, the scandal around Tesco’s profits hit the news. They inflated profits by £250 million, which resulted in more than £2 billion being wiped off their value, and their profits fell rapidly.
The scandal caused the developers to lose interest from the large food store operators. Jomast got back to me, and Adam Hearld said: “We are regularly in touch with the supermarket operators but the consistent response to date has focused on the insufficient population numbers.”
So this story has gone full circle, back to the subject of population. Despite growth through more and more developments, supermarkets still don’t see it as a viable development. Which begs to question why Thirsk have three with similar population numbers, but to that I have no answers.
For now though, we keep travelling for our weekly shops, and see how much bigger Easingwold needs to get before a supermarket takes the plunge.