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Striking the right balance for Tower Hamlets

November 22, 2009


Increasingly, I hear from residents concerned about the ever-expanding presence of Tesco’s in our Borough. Close to a dozen of their stores have sprung up in the last few years alone, the latest being the Tesco Express on Burdett Road opened earlier this month.

Now, a ‘Tesco Town’ adjacent to the Olympics site has been announced, complete with a primary school and library, which will further extend the multinational company’s influence in Tower Hamlets. All this has been carried off with the enthusiastic support of the New Labour-run council.

Tesco’s has also increased its dominance amongst the big supermarkets, since Safeways closed in Roman Road market. The Labour council, led by Michael Keith, stood by in the face of the threat of closure and it was left to George Galloway to write three times to the board of Morrisons/Safeways to plead with them to reconsider. But only the council had the power to offer them the inducements which might have led them to reconsider. They did not. The result has been a very serious blow to all of the businesses in the Roman Road and particularly the historic market.

Nobody is saying that Tesco’s does not have a place in Tower Hamlets. But the council’s approach has left neighbourhood convenience and grocery stores struggling to survive. These locally-run shops play an important role in the community, boosting employment and providing residents with a choice and variety of goods often not available in the large supermarkets. The owners of these stores come to me in real fear for their livelihoods, and understandably ask why the council has ignored their legitimate worries.

Recently a much-loved organic store on Roman Road that has been running for 30 years was forced to close. The manager said “Business has been slowing for the past four years across health shops with increased competition from supermarkets and other stores doing more organic and specialist products.”

I am in favour of striking a more equitable balance. Council leaders must now acknowledge that they should consider the position of local businesses struggling through the recession. A fairer approach that ensures grocery stores that are rooted in their communities can survive and prosper is essential. I am demanding that the council address this issue.

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