The proposal to open a Co-op in Belsize Village has sparked a huge amount of interest and a large amount of correspondence for all local councillors.
Unlike some objectors, I have no problem with supermarkets opening locally. With food bills consuming a large proportion of household budgets, little raises the standard of living of a local area more than the lower food prices that supermarkets can offer.
However, little can reduce the standard of living of an area more than the traffic congestion that has become synonymous with poorly-policed Tesco outlets on Heath Street, England’s Lane, West End Lane, and Swain’s Lane; or the additional crime that can come from poor licensing policy. The Co-op has not addressed either issue.
The Co-op has applied for a licence to sell alcohol for incredibly long hours, and Camden should use the licensing process to require it to abide by the same rules as local shops.
It is un-Conservative for councils to create unlevel playing fields and allow supermarkets to block up local roads with impunity and sell alcohol for longer hours than their smaller competitors. Councils giving preferential treatment to one competitor or another – whether it’s the Co-op or Belsize Village’s Late Late Store – is not competition.
The Camden New Journal published the below letter from me outlining my position of how we minimise disruption and maximise competition.
I share my Conservative colleagues’ concerns (The Coop Concerns Us) about the Co-op’s attempt to seek preferential treatment from Camden by selling alcohol almost 24/7 at 29 Belsize Lane and by not having a plan to avoid traffic mayhem.
I actively welcome new shops opening, and am very happy that plans have been brought forward for the site of Belsize Village’s sadly-closed XO. The proposal is to open two small outlets in its place, and with the right tenant in the second unit (31 Belsize Lane), it could be a huge benefit to Belsize Village.
But that won’t be the case unless the new neighbours play by the rules. We have seen time and again huge Tesco lorries blocking narrow Heath Street, England’s Lane, West End Lane, and Swain’s Lane.
The Co-op has applied to sell alcohol from 6am every day, when Camden’s licensing policy states that 8am (and 10am on Sundays) is the earliest it ordinarily allows. Those are the hours that all other nearby shops abide by – including Belsize’s Late Late Store, Tesco, Budgens, and Waitrose – so why can’t the Co-op?
Camden Conservatives are calling on the Co-op to abide by these same hours and take proactive steps to mitigate harm to the community. For starters, that means using small delivery vans instead of large lorries to avoid the public nuisance of congestion. The Co-op should also position CCTV cameras to cover a 180 degree arc of Belsize Village to prevent a repeat of the burglaries as took place last year.
The public can join these calls by responding to the licensing consultation and telling Camden they want good neighbours in Belsize Village that help reduce public nuisance and disorder. You can read the licensing application at www.bit.ly/BelsizeCoopApp and respond by writing to Licensing Team, Camden Council, 5 Pancras Square, WC1H 9JE.
Imposing licensing conditions is key, as once a shop has opened, it is almost impossible to change the business practice. But if Camden holds businesses to the law, ensures they play by the rules, and makes sure no-one has an unfair advantage over another, that minimises harm to the community and maximises competition.
If the Co-op decides it can’t meet these reasonable demands, and that its business model relies on getting preferential treatment compared to its neighbours, then it’s right for the community to ask that they don’t open there. All we ask for is a level playing field.
For more about my campaign to support local businesses, click here.