Why Nairn’s supermarket plan needs revising
Nairn councillors seem intent on pushing for the original supermarket plan in the centre of Nairn – a plan that was implemented in a rush, never properly developed, and remains an orphaned policy with limited merit.
Here are some reasons why Nairn’s representative should stop looking backwards and start looking forwards:
Somerfield expansion = bad
Too much hope is being put on Somerfield expanding the town centre presence. After all:
1. Somerfield is in the process of being bought out by the Co-op. That means any application for planning consent is being done entirely through pressure from councillors, not because of any will by Somerfield to actually develop anything – they are absolutely not in a position to agree to any new project.
2. The purchase of Somerfield by Co-op will take a couple of years to complete. During this time, the Co-op will implement an overall review of their position in the UK, and likely shed branches and jobs. Expansion at this point is a no-go.
3. Co-op already has a supermarket in the centre of Nairn – they are either going to have to look at selling one off – or even closing one down. Instead of having two small supermarkets in Nairn, chances are we’d end up having just the one.
4. There’s a credit crunch on. It’s so serious, the banks can’t even lend to each other and the government has been forced to part-nationalise Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB, and Halifax Bank of Scotland. Somehow against this background Nairn councillors think that the Co-op – having spent billions on acquiring Somerfield – are then going to rush out and get millions more to expand small town Highland supermarkets.
The bottom line is that hopes being pinned on a Somerfield expansion are so out of touch with business reality. Councillors push for Somerfield to make applications for planning, which I’m sure they are happy to do so as to keep Co-op happy – but Somerfield are not going to invoke a range of financial liabilities on the Co-op.
Additionally, even if the Co-op really really wanted to expand the existing Somerfield, financial conditions means that it would be risky to seek additional financing so soon after the big purchase agreement of Somerfield.
Even if they did want to take that risk, they wouldn’t be able to for years – and it would require the High Street Co-op being shut down or sold.
What no one seems to be asking is what’s in it for Co-op to follow Nairn’s plans? There are no coherent business or financial arguments for the Co-op to deliver what is essential a pipe dream of some old Nairnites who rushed into a plan to keep Asda out – and ten years later are finding it utterly dysfunctional.
I also seem to have overlooked how an expanded town centre supermarket is going to accommodate the extra parking – the current one can barely cope as it is – or are we talking about demolishing surrounding buildings for that? Doesn’t that sound like the sort of hassle that would make building an out of town supermarket make more sense?
Sainsburys = good
Most towns I’ve visited have both out of town shopping developments and a thriving high street that is focused on shoppers through pedestrianisation.
Nairn doesn’t have either – yet some vocal people seem to want to keep it that way – just because they have a dysfunctional plan set up a rush 10 years ago, the result of which is a string of disused and derelict building by the A96 in the town – left the rot in case the “plan” finally materialises.
Firstly, Nairn is a gem – the star of the North – the jewel in the Highland crown. That means it should have a considered, forward thinking and explorative vision of the future.
So why should an out of town supermarket be seen as a threat to Nairn?
Simply put, it isn’t – everyone from Nairn who needs more than extremely basic (and pricey) groceries must leave Nairn and drive 15+ miles to Inverness or Forres for shopping.
Here’s a radical idea – why not have a shopping development on the outskirts of Nairn that not only helps serve many of the basic needs of the local population – but also brings in people from the surrounding area, because we have something they have not?
Those who claim the centre of Nairn will suffer are talking rubbish – if shops close it is because they cannot compete – but as evolutionary principles are a central tenet of business (adapt or die) then we have to ensure Nairn adapts with it.
At present, Nairn High Street suffers from shops which:
1. Often look grubby
2. Some don’t even take plastic
3. Often closed on a Wednesday
4. Have no pedestrian focus
The last point especially needs sounding out – the pathways are like goat runs, and terrified us when taking our wee kids along it the first time. Even though we’ve gotten used to them, we still see – or are part of – various “near misses”. Children are so at risk on those pavements. So how will that encourage people to bring their kids into Nairn for shopping?
Additionally, the lack of pedestrianisation is a problem begging to be rectified, for safety, business, cultural, and developmental reasons.
I had to go to London on Wednesday to make a presentation to a multinational client – I already cover their personal financial services division, and now they want marketing for their commercial and offshore subsidiaries. On the plane on the way back, I spoke to someone from Drumnadrochit, who was surprised that Nairn was not filled with cafes sprawling across wide pavements.
I can only agree – let’s get some culture and more of a focus on serving tourists in the town centre!!
I know some existing businesses are worried about change – but tough, in business as in life, adapt or change. And I’ve already posted that I’d love to get some frontage on the high street.
Soon I’ll need offices, and I’d be happy to buy into commercial property on Nairn High Street.
Additionally, I would love to set up an organic/vegetarian cafe – real food with real taste, and a vegetarian* slant (*many Scottish food outlets will need to look that word up in a dictionary – all the more reason to set one up). I couldn’t run it myself because of existing business commitments, but I would be happy to set up a funding stake in one.
So already, if the opportunity arose, I could be looking at needing two commercial properties in Nairn. With the current dependence on the out-dated anti-Asda plan, those opportunities cannot yet be realised.
Also, I’m not sure if Nairnites have realised it, but the small business park is increasingly developing on the outskirts, and some companies are trying to bring in heavy industry.
Personally speaking, I’d much rather see a supermarket that we need, than a cement factory we don’t, built on the edge of Nairn.
Nairn has a potentially great future, but is being held back by lack of vision, and desperate attempt to force out-dated aspirations onto a business reality that will not accept them.
I want to see a Nairn moving forward – keeping pace – realising itself and its potential.
Sainsburys is the start.
After all, what Sainsburys represents is not simply a supermarket – but a whole new change in attitude.
As the tagline says, “Try something new today”. How apt.