Sunday trading hours are in the news at the moment, as the government is planning to suspend current Sunday trading restrictions for the duration of the Olympics this summer. ‘Small’ shops are currently already exempt from such laws, but what many people do not perhaps appreciate is how disruptive apparently ‘small’ shops can be.
But first, a bit of backstory. When we first moved into our house, there was a pub just opposite it. At first, this wasn’t much of a problem, but gradually the customers got rougher and the landlord lost of control of the situation. There were regular fights in the car park and up and down the road between lagered-up lads, and the whole thing ended tragically in someone being killed. The pub was closed pending the licence being re-issued under particular conditions. In the end, it stayed closed for months and was eventually sold. The building remained empty for quite some time until building work started suddenly. We were surprised, because we hadn’t heard about any planning applications, but when we spoke to the workmen, it appeared that Tesco had bought the building.
Planning regulations are labyrinthine, but it seems that if you buy a building, work within its shell, and you do not alter the use of the building, you do not need to seek planning permission. Changing from a pub to a small supermarket does not apparently constitute change of use, and since Tesco just gutted the interior of the pub but left the exterior largely unchanged, it could all go ahead without any of the neighbours needing to be informed.
The supermarket has been open more than a year now. Since it counts as a ‘small’ shop, it does not have restricted hours on a Sunday. In fact, it is open 6am until 11pm every day of the week (we do get peace and quiet on Christmas Day, though!), despite the fact that in a meeting before they opened, representatives from Tesco said the hours would be 7am until 10pm. The problem is, a small supermarket in a large chain is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Huge articulated trucks deliver goods to the shop several times a day, literally blotting out the light to our front room as they pass, and often having difficulty getting in to the small loading bay at one side of the shop. Newspapers get delivered (noisily, by two separate companies) at about 5am before the shop is open, and customers wait with their engines running and music blaring in the street (rather than the purpose-built car park) for their buddies to come out with a pint of milk or a pack of cigarettes.
The thing is, we live in a normal, residential street, but the shop is serviced and run like a huge hypermarket in an empty industrial estate. We had no say in any of it. We have since tried to complain about various issues (like the unnecessarily noisy newspaper deliveries), but trying to find the correct person to complain to in a giant corporation like Tesco is and exercise in frustration and futility. I have no love at all for Tesco, but in fairness they are probably no worse than any of the other big supermarket chains. The problem is that planners regard these small shops like a corner shop, but they are not. The owner doesn’t get his son to nip to the Cash & Carry in the Rascal for supplies1, with minimal disruption to anyone else — it’s one node in a country-wide supply chain for a gigantic corporation.
If the government goes ahead with its planned changes, people living close to those shops will be inconvenienced for 8 weeks. Spare a thought for those of us who have to live with these wolves in sheep’s clothing all the time.
Obligatory ‘Fags, Mags and Bags’ reference here. ↩