Sunday, 31 August 2008

Opposing the visual clutter of 'Clone Town' Kemp Town

In 2005 Boots the Chemist took over Alliance Unichem in a surprise merger which shocked the business editors and caused a flurry of headlines for a day or so.

It's just another sign of the impending 'Clone Town' Britain, the tendancy for retailers to be snapped up by each other until just a few remain, and every shopping street looks the same as every other. The excellent New Economics Foundation (nef) tells the story better than anyone.

Locally, we've done quite well at resisting the march of the clones: Kemp Town retains much of its unique character - but I'm concerned that with the coming of Starbucks and with work already well under way on a new Tesco Express in St James's Street the steady erosion of the area's identity is gathering pace.

That's why I've lodged a formal objection to a planning application by Boots to put up a sign advertising their new 'corporate identity' outside the former Alliance Pharmacy in St George's Road.

It's just a sign, and in a free world it might seem fair enough to let a shop put up a sign advertising its name, but the reality is this Boots sign would be another step towards the area looking just like everywhere else.

Kemp Town's unique character is achieved in large part thanks to its independent traders, local businesses and visually interesting environment.

A sign advertising a chain store that appears in almost every shopping street in the country – and in at least five other locations in Brighton and Hove alone – can hardly be deemed to be ‘visually interesting’, a planning requirement.

There's not much I, as a local councillor, can do about Boots’ takeover of the Alliance Pharmacy, but I can seek to preserve the area’s unique character by arguing against chain stores’ intrusive attempts to advertise their presence with dull logos and visual clutter.

Fortunately, members of the council’s planning committee seemed minded to agree when I made similar arguments about a bid for an illuminated sign outside the controversial Starbucks cafĂ© in St James’s Street.

I hope they'll take a consistent line - and agree this time too.

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