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By Tim Williams
Not content with four stores already in the city centre, Sainsbury’s are about to add their fifth. Due to open in the spring in Summertown, a Sainsbury’s Local will take its place alongside three existing supermarkets on Banbury Road, creating concern among local residents, councillors and business owners.
The supermarket giant will take the vacant Suffolk House site of what used to be both the newsagents Martin’s and wine retailer Oddbins, on the corner of South Parade and Banbury Road, to create one store under their ‘Local’ brand. It will rival Tesco Express, Marks& Spencer and Co-op in the vicinity.
An online petition against the move, which has reached 102 signatures in ten days, has been set up by Frances Kennett, a former Oxford academic who achieved national fame for protesting over fortnightly bin collections in 2007.
The petition reads: “We the undersigned protest at the opening of Sainsbury’s in Summertown: it will be the fourth supermarket within the 100-metre stretch of the local shops. Sainsbury’s are applying for a liquor licence to sell from 7 am to 11 pm. With all the schoolchildren and students in this area, this will be an unwanted and inadvisable increase in alcohol availability in a residential neighbourhood.”
Sainsbury’s are free to lease the site without council approval because the site was formerly used by retail outlets and there is no change of use. It is likely that they will be provided a licence to serve alcohol, which the Martin’s newsagents did not have.
Both Summertown City Councillors Jean Fooks and Stuart McCready are unenthusiastic the move.
McCready said: “I think that three supermarkets are enough and I’d prefer to see development which encourages smaller shops with local character. Co-op, Tesco and M&S aren’t giving us that.
“I’m more in favour of Co-op since it’s been here for longer and served locals for ages but I’d like to see a community planning forum set up which could influence what size developments are in the area and give residents more of a say over neighbourhood planning.”
Jean Fooks said that while she would prefer to see more local independent shops she recognised the reality that many were unable to pay the rent, whereas Sainsbury’s was willing to and provide more jobs in the area.
Sainsbury’s, whose CEO Justin King is a Visiting Fellow of Oxford University’s Centre for Corporate Reputation at the Said Business School, confirmed the stores are due to open in Spring 2012.
Their spokesperson said: “Sainsbury’s is delighted to confirm that we have agreed a lease for the former Oddbins and Martin’s stores to be a Sainsbury’s Local.
“We believe the new convenience shop will be of great benefit to the area, by improving shopping choice and regenerating previously vacant units. The store is due to open in spring 2012.”
Website Summertown.info, which promotes business in the area, said last month: “The feeling among the people of Summertown is that [Sainsbury’s potentially moving in] is something they just do not need.” Previously the website had reported rumours that JJB Sports were considering moving to the site.
However, Somerville student Daniel Purcell commented: “I don’t think it’s that bad an idea. I don’t think that Sainsbury’s are doing anything particularly wrong by setting up a shop there and obviously they think there’s a gap in the market that they can succeed in.”
Mansfield second-year Rosie Chesterton expressed concern that, with greengrocers being squeezed, there could be less local produce on the shelves and added: “A new supermarket could result in competitive prices and lower costs for shoppers but it does seem a shame that independents are not getting a chance.”