Here is a copy of the unedited letter sent to the East Lothian Courier, a testy but otherwise balanced protest against the increasing inconvenience of so-called convenience stores. Just in case you missed it, here is what was hastily sent. Little wonder that our High Streets have a poor reputation.
I am a long-standing supporter of the Co-op and the Co-op movement. Business generally has a lot to learn from the original 19th century co-op model, which has been a continuous source of innovations to this day.
However I have no sympathy whatsoever for the Co-op when it prosecutes narrow financial and operational objectives to the detriment of local residents and neighbours. Haddington’s problem reported in last week’s edition is not an isolated one.
In Dunbar the Co-op’s operation frequently flouts the notion of being a ‘good neighbour’, with delivery drivers parked illegally, blocking the highway, pedestrian crossings, bus stops and private access as
well as mounting pavements, daily. The company runs a quasi industrial operation on an otherwise sleepy High Street, with only passing regard for the people that live there. Delivery drivers leave
refrigeration units running for sometimes an hour or more and deliveries are increasingly at unsociable hours, including weekends and bank holidays when the disturbance is felt acutely. If drivers
cannot get near their store, they run the dangerously balanced and noisy cages from up to 20-30 metres away, more often than not unassisted by shop staff. The early opening and late closing means
continuous motorised traffic every single day except Christmas day alongside the associated problems with manoeuvring and parking. This pattern is repeated in small towns and villages throughout the County.
The Co-op’s High Street shops masquerade as convenience stores, but seemingly push out a higher volume of fast moving goods per square metre than their larger stores, so much so that they are they are
becoming spectacularly inconvenient, at least for residents and pedestrians. It seems unlikely that they would get planning permission today, given the limited vehicle access and safety issues associated with moving clumsy cages through the customer entrance.
Yet there are alternatives. The Co-op could lead by example and create a local hub for deliveries and move product to store using smaller and quieter and perhaps greener vehicles (something similar is being
looked at in Perth) and employ quieter cages with rubber wheels (which other operators use). It could also use it’s larger properties more effectively (instead they are often empty or partitioned off) and
consolidate some of their operations (Dunbar has 3 Co-ops within minutes of each other) into the larger stores, for car users who seek this convenience. This would reduce unnecessary High Street journeys. They could even alternate opening hours so that the environmental bads arising from their early opening / late closing are diluted.
If the Co-op wants to maintain its reputation for being community spirited / ethical company, it needs to do much more than buy off local organisations with donations and publicity fanfare, and do a lot
lot more to reduce the environmental and social impact of their operations on residents.