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Monday, 27 May 2013

Enid Jones - A woman for our times?

She may not be known to the most of us but Enid Jones is at the centre of a debate which threatens to destroy our communities and way of life. In the mid Wales town of Aberystwyth, town planners have approved a proposed retail development which would see yet another large Tesco being built with a three-storey Marks and Spencer outlet.

The proposed development entails an entire street being bulldozed in favour of the corporate big boys. With a promise of 280 jobs, this new development claims that it will result in an extra £1.6 to £3.5 million pounds per year being spent in the town centre. Wrong. Look at any town you care to mention where a new superstore has been built on the fringes of the town centre and the statistics are overwhelming. Town centre spending goes down and key businesses are lost as they seek to fight the supermarket in a battle they can never win. The greengrocer has no chance faced with the buying power and import strength of the supermarkets. The butcher likewise. Even the electrical shop and hardware shop are now in the firing line. The florist will be sweating even as I write. There will be limited scope for a newsagent to compete and even the chemists will take a battering. The only shops which are seen to prosper when the supermarket comes to town are the charity shops. Retail premises haemorrhage their value and many become vacant and remain that way. When they are gone, they have a habit of not returning. Quite how this new development will result in all this extra money being spent in shops which will no longer exist is an absolute mystery to me.

To their shame, local councillors have approved the employment of a compulsory purchase scheme to force Enid out. This house was purchased by this lady nearly a decade ago because she needed to be near to her town centre on the flat so that she could easily access local shops and services. Her medical condition dictated her decision the building the council would destroy is not a house - it is her home. This is a fundamental and very important point. The mantra of local government now appears to be "if we can't get our own way, we'll just use whatever means we can until we do". That they have been allowed to become so powerful is a massive mistake for which we will all pay in due course.

The final decision in this shameful story will rest with the powers that be in the Welsh Assembly Government in Cardiff. I can only hope that they show a shred of decency and allow themselves to see this charade as it really is. The local council has said they are merely asking Enid to compromise and relocate to another property. If they too could show some compromise, she wouldn't need to. Does Aberystwyth really need a 25,000 square feet Tesco and a 36,000 square feet Marks and Spencer? Will the world stop spinning if they don't go ahead?  The developer has stated that this is the only way they can do it - and the council believes them. What a surprise! If any of these council employees ever spent a month or two working in one of the shops in the town, they might just gain some insight in to just how hard it is and just what a vital service they give. If the qualification for becoming a council employee required people to have previously run a small business, the function of the council would change overnight.

This lady has my full support. Whichever way the council likes to portray their treatment of her, she is being bullied, plain and simple. Stick to your guns Enid. Her right to remain in her home should only be compromised by earthquakes, volcanoes and subsidence - not corporate greed. The leader of the council claims they have no choice because they have to develop their economy and provide a viable future for their young people. Absolute rubbish. If proof were needed of how detached councils are from real business, we need look no further. Tesco and Marks and Spencer exist at the behest of shareholders and operate accordingly. They do not provide a sustainable future any more than local councils do. This is a case of the swindlers promoting the money men. Let us not delude ourselves that the council leader even believes her own words. There will undoubtedly be something in it for the council for them to be supporting it to such a partisan extent. Meanwhile, can they just leave this lady alone in the comfort of her own home or has their regard for us now become none existent?