Saturday, 6 June 2009

People power sees off Tesco superstore from London Road

Grass-roots democracy is alive and strong and living in Brighton, it seems.

A community-run campaign to see off a proposed Tesco superstore in the London Road area seems to have worked for now.

Shady property investment company St James's Investments, which has been sneakily buying up properties in the area for the proposed superstore, has announced it will no longer be working with Tesco - citing the loud and organised public opposition as a reason.

It warms the cockles, doesn't it. Hundreds of local residents - and local Green Party councillors - came together in the campaign group 'Another London Road Is Possible', which promptly gathered a petition with more than a thousand signatures opposed to the development.

It's results like this that get me through the dark times, when the superstores and multinationals seems to be able to trump local opinion, such as Tesco's bizarre ability to persuade a magistrate to grant it a license to sell cut-price alcohol to street drinkers and children in St James's Street - despite the clear opposition of local residents, other traders and Brighton and Hove Council, which had already said no.

The next test will be the public inquiry into the St James's Street Starbucks, which takes place next week. It'll be open to the public, so do come along, from 10am on Wednesday, at Brighton Town Hall.

For me, the issues are clear: Starbucks has defied planning rules, pushed up rents, threatens the livelihood of all the other tea and coffee shops (the ones run by the community) in St James's and George Streets - and is deeply unpopular, as evidenced by the weekly demonstrations that have taken place outside its doors.

But the community can win - and the struggle isn't over 'till it's over, as they say.

'In The Thick Of It' writer Armando Iannucci's 'Time Trumpet' had, for me, one of the funniest takes on why it matters. I know it's a a bit silly, but a serious message lies behind it, and it made me laugh. I hope it makes you laugh too.

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