Stirling – Still All at C

I had no intention of adding to my last post about the perverse decision of Stirling Council to go against official recommendation and permit a new ASDA superstore on a greenfield site further out from Stirling than any other retail development.  Climate crisis, food crisis, city centre crisis – who cares?  Seemingly not those councillors.

As a colleague kindly said, getting the story on the front of the local paper had already put enough people off their cornflakes or porridge.

But then Stirling Council tweeted out about their signing of the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration.  Yes really, the Council that had just a few weeks before given permission for a car-dependent, out-of-town, greenfield land-eating ASDA superstore was now virtue signalling its commitment to tackling climate change and car dependency and in support of local food systems and all manner of sustainability.

You really couldn’t make it up.

The Council’s statement on signing is here and the Glasgow Declaration is here.  In the statement Vice Convenor Councillor Scott Farmer is quoted:

“Enhancing and integrating our food systems will be vital in the fight against climate change and that requires local action, so it’s vital that local authorities such as Stirling step up to meet this challenge.

We are proud to be one of the first Scottish Councils to sign this declaration which aligns with our ongoing work to make Stirling a Good Food City – a place where everyone can access healthy, affordable and sustainable food

Yes, the same Scott Farmer who led the charge to overturn his officials’ recommendations and give permission to a huge car dependent Asda.  “Stirling – A Good Food City”.  Yea right.

Paragraph 15 of the Glasgow Declaration should have given Stirling Council some pause for thought surely:

“Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from urban and regional food systems in accordance with the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, and building sustainable food systems that are able to rebuild ecosystems and deliver safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, and sustainable diets for all.”

But then a careful reading of the Declaration should raise all sorts of flags about out-of-town superstore developments and food systems.

Then the week got even better.  The following day the Daily Record triumphed that a new B&M store was opening that day in an old Homebase unit at Springkerse (yes the out of town development that protested the Crookbridge application), and that 60 ‘new’ jobs would be created.

Close reading of the story produces two worrying thoughts.  First, are these new additional ‘new’ jobs to the local area? They replace a failed store, and B&M have agreed to keep an old store nearer the city centre open for ‘at least’ three years?  Presumably jobs will be lost or transferred from that store during and at then end of that period (and one hopes it does not ‘stay open’ in the same way Marks and Spencer does in East Kilbride, see here and here; whilst that situation arose for a different set of reasons, does anything stop something like this during the three years?).

Secondly, this B&M has been permitted to sell food from the site.  This is despite almost two decades of the Council sticking to the conditions of the original and previous planning consents i.e. no sale of food.  The permission for abandoning the restrictions came against official recommendations, objections and long-standing precedent.  That decision from a year ago of course produced its own precedent and probably encouraged the Crookbridge applicants to continue to try their luck (again).

The only good thing in this sorry saga is at least B&M are reusing an older store (well 15 years or so old) and not building on greenfield land.

By signing up to the Glasgow Declaration (and their other strategies, policies, whatever for good food) Stirling Council are signalling an ambition.  By their actions though, they are showing their true colours and beliefs, wedded in the past and deniers of the crises in climate, food poverty, sustainability and social justice.  Actions are what count and positive actions in these arenas by Stirling Council remain in very short supply.

Posted in Asda, Car Dependency, Climate Emergency, Closure, East Kilbride, Employment, Food Retailing, High Streets, Local Authorities, Marks and Spencer, Out of Town, Place Principle, Places, Planning, Politicians, Retail Planning, Social Inequality, Spatial Planning, Stirling, Stirling Council, Sustainability, Town Centres, Towns, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stirling – all at C

It is probably time for my regular reminder that this blog expresses my personal and professional opinion. It does not necessarily reflect the official views of any organisation that employs me or with which I am associated.

On Wednesday 19th January, four Stirling Councillors voted to approve planning permission for an out-of-town retail and mixed-use development at Crookbridge, Stirling.  They voted against the recommendation of the council officers to reject the application. By 4-2 the Planning and Regulation Panel Meeting drove another stake into the heart of ambitions for national and local outcomes and the enhancement of health and wellbeing, economic and social development, climate change and sustainability. They showed an inability to grasp the problems we have locally and nationally (if not globally) and the sort of solutions we need to support and plan for. The decision flies in the face of national and local policy approaches and of Town Centre First and the Place Principle, both of which Stirling Council supposedly are in agreement with and meant to adhere to.

The last thing the struggling Stirling city centre, and especially coming out of the pandemic, needed was another car-focused development including an Asda, offices, car showroom and fast food and drive thru’s on a greenfield site further away from the heart of Stirling than any other previous development.  Quite what those trying to regenerate and revitalise the City Centre thought I do not know, but I would not be suprised if the Stirling BID members and the new owners of the Thistles Centre feel mightily let down.  I certainly do.

There are many aspects of this whole saga, and if you can stand it you can watch the Planning and Regulation Panel Meeting on YouTube (here), with the discussion of this application starting at about 2 hours 42 minutes in.  A short report in the Daily Record can be found here. You can see the councillors seemed to have been swayed by a large job figure; something that previous experience tells us will not fully materialise and which is even less likely in post-pandemic retailing.

The Scottish Government’s National Outcomes and approach are now well set down.  The Government has declared a climate emergency, it has recently published plans seeking a 20% reduction in car kilometres in the next few years, its draft National Planning Framework 4 clearly signals the damage such out-of-town developments do and the need to reverse the trends and build places around concepts of 20-minute neighbourhoods, livability and avoiding damaging forms of transport and movement.  At a local level Stirling is trying desperately to rebuild and re-energise its city centre. The sprawl of Springkerse (which this site extends further away from the city centre) is already a disaggregated, car-focused agglomeration.

The introduction for a forthcoming Holyrood Events seminar summarises the Scottish Government’s approach well:

“As Scotland transitions to a net-zero, well-being economy, and patterns of life change throughout the world, particularly in response to the Climate Emergency, planning and an “infrastructure first” approach is essential in successfully navigating the challenges and taking advantage of the opportunities that this trajectory presents.

With its proposed National Developments and National Planning Policy outlined in the document, the Scottish Government explains how Scotland will deliver net-zero through a place-based and plan-led approach to sustainable development. There is an emphasis on protecting the climate and nature and promoting human rights and equality. It also seeks to deliver enhanced livability through the pioneering 20-minute neighbourhoods policy approach. This approach aims to use planning to tackle health inequalities, minimise waste, and focus on building the right houses in the right places with inbuilt local infrastructure to reduce reliance on unsustainable modes of transport.”

The four councillors in Stirling clearly know otherwise.

The details of the application are not the focus here.  If we are to be serious about our challenges, such developments as these no longer have a place.  But specifically, the application relied on a 2007/8 advice note/guidance on how to do retail impact assessments and most of it did not need to meet the sequential test due to the nature and combination of uses the applicant combined. The core consumer data was the household survey from 2008 (with some estimates of change, though how you do this accurately given the last two years I do not know).  The world has changed since 2007/8; it continues to do at pace and it needs to do even faster. Just think how retailing and town centres have changed in the last 15 years. This process was flawed in practice and in concept; hence the officer recommendation to reject.

But no, Stirling councillors backed a development designed to add more traffic and do more harm to people, the planet and the economy, locally and beyond. It beggars belief.

A few months ago I was asked in the light of my review for the Scottish Government, my chairmanship of and work with Scotland’s Towns Partnership, my academic professional expertise and possibly from being a long-term resident of Stirling, to be a member of the Council’s City Centre Working Group with an aim of helping to steer its revitalisation, and as part of a new focus from the Council on improving the City centre. 

At the end of last week I resigned from the Group in the light of that decision on Wednesday.  The Council officials and business people on the Group have, in my view, been badly let down.  I see little future success for the Group when members of the Council are so eager to damage the place and to defy national priorities and all commonsense. I hope those left prove me wrong and Stirling City Centre can recover. I wish them well, but my frustration should be obvious. At least I have more time to spend with towns that are grasping a positive future.

These same councillors will no doubt pop up again soon decrying the state of the City Centre and demanding action. My thoughts if they do may best be left unwritten.

Posted in 20 Minute Neighbourhood, Asda, BIDS, City Centres, Food Retailing, Governance, Government, Land Use Planning, Local Authorities, New Future for Scotland's Towns, NPF4, Place Principle, Places, Planning, Politicians, Retail Planning, Retail Policy, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scotland's Towns Partnership, Scottish Government, Sustainable Development, Town Centre Action Plan, Town Centre Action Plan Review Group, town centre first, Town Centre Review, Town Centres | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

NPF4 – on the evidence trail

Yesterday I gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee on the Scottish Government’s draft National Planning Framework 4.  It was an interesting experience and lasted 90 minutes or so with a panel of myself, Professor Cliff Hague and Dr Caroline Brown (Heriot-Watt University). The recording of the session should be able to be found here, and the official report of the session will be available here, once they are prepared.

I have commented previously on my initial reading of NPF4. extended this with a discussion of Retail Impact Assessments and then a plea for a balance of measures to both encourage good things and discourage bad things.

In preparation, I re-read NPF4 and thought a little more about some of my initial response and recent experiences (see later).  I thus had in my mind six key messages I wanted to get over (within a supportive view of NPF4).  These were:

  • The language needs strengthening to bring more clarity and certainty; there is too much ambiguity overall and not enough certainty and definition.
  • The section on retailing, impact and town centre first assessments needs to be much stronger to avoid ‘wriggle-room’. This is a good example of the ambiguity. I am not sure how to interpret for example that developments should not have a “significant adverse impact” on the town centre. Perhaps more starkly why are we allowing any developments that have any negative impact on town centres, given the thrust of the draft NPF4 and other policies?
  • Loopholes need closing now.  There will be zoning, land banks, policy declarations that are no longer acceptance or compatible.  These need closing now to avoid a decade long drift into the new policy.  Given the direction of this and other policies we need to revisit decisions over the last decade or so (e.g. zoning, unbuilt permissions) and if not matching our new directions, should remove them.
  • NPF4 could do with a closer alignment to other policies.  This is a two-way street – other policies need to be clear about NPF4 e.g. the response to the Town Centre Action Plan Review (where the links are clear in my view and are made) and the forthcoming retail strategy.  This would give a greater sense of purpose e.g. on housing and retail development, and more priority for the things, and type of things, we need. It might also provide clarity about types of developments we do not need.
  • The Delivery and Action section reads like an afterthought when it needs to be the strongest part in my view.  This is especially in the area of additional resources coming into planning; upping the fees is not enough to build the planning skills and progression we need. There needs to be a more fundamental shift of resources and we need to ensure we have a vibrant and suitably robust planning profession to meet our national ambitions and to provide robust responses to proposals that do not fit our agreed ambitions.
  • The role of community in planning and place needs clarifying.  It is there in part but the how and when of serious community co-development needs to be more firmly drawn out, made consistent and supported, probably financially. One of the common themes in my Town Centre Action Plan review evidence and in the discussions at the Social Renewal Advisory Board was that people and communities did not feel engaged nor listened to and that barriers were sometimes put in their way, leading to a feeling of things to do them and their places and not with them.

I am not sure I got all of these over, but I had a go.

The discussion covered a very wide range of topics, some of which I was not competent to comment on fully, but to hear community wealth building, diversity of ownership, social and community assets, design and wellbeing, historic and heritage assets, 20 minute neighbourhoods, town centre redevelopment, housing in town centres, data and metrics for the new economy and society and other such themes was gratifying. I did conclude by reiterating the point that we need to encourage these sorts of changes, but combine this with an active discouragement of developments and practices we do not want or need. I feel this is essential to making progress.

This concern over ensuring the right direction and re-balance was brought into stark focus last week by the decision of four Stirling Councillors to permit an out-of-town retail and other uses development despite being recommended by officials not to.  That decision flies in the face of so many things, including draft NPF4, and is deeply disappointing and damaging.  It is one reason why I now more convinced of the need for robust local council action coupled with central oversight of local decisions which go against national policies and also of closing the loopholes which will continue to damage all of us for years if we are not vigilant.  That decision in Stirling is the focus of the next post, later this week.

Posted in 20 Minute Neighbourhood, City Centres, Climate Emergency, Community, Community Assets, Community Development, Community Ownership, community wealth building, Government, Healthy Living, Heritage, Land Use Planning, Local Authorities, New Future for Scotland's Towns, NPF4, Place Principle, Places, Planning, Public Policy, Retail Impact Assessments, Retail Planning, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scotland's Towns Partnership, Scottish Government, Stirling, Stirling Council, Town Centre Action Plan, town centre first, Town Centre Living, Town Centre Review, Town Centres, Towns, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Scottish Retail Sales: Covid Impacts against the Long Term Data

The British/Scottish Retail Consortium has been producing its Scottish Retail Sales Monitor for a long time.  I have been charting the results since last century (!) and have commented on the monthly figures in this blog before, for example here and here.

I do occasionally have issues with some of the press releases with the data and the ‘spin’ put on the figures (see here), but it is the SRC’s data and they can say what they wish.  The very existence of this monitor over this length of time is a valuable thing in its own right.

Covid has of course disrupted retail sales, with shops suffering restrictions and closures and consumers shifting patterns of spending across sectors and onto online channels.  Retailing itself has changed over the long and the Covid short (ish) run.

The first set of charts below is showing the long run data.  They compare in turn food and non-food sales in Scotland, all sales in Scotland and the UK, Scotland and the figures as a three month moving average and Scotland and the UK non-food sales including via the internet.  These are the normal charts that I use in commenting on this data.

The point they all make is the same.  We know the pandemic is a once in a century event (hopefully) but this is so starkly shown in the charts.  The disruption and volatility overwhelms the normal variation.  We are living in unprecedented times and need to have every sympathy with the retailers (small and large) who are trying to trade and survive in this pandemic.  This is tough and they have done a magnificent job as a sector.

The second sequence of charts looks at the same data sets but graphs only the sequence from January 2019 i.e. the year before the pandemic onwards.  The scale of disruption is again evident, but the differences are now more apparent. The graphs allow a focus on the pandemic changes.

It is worth noting here that the monitor looks at sales a year ago as its comparator.  But, in the pandemic this is an issue, especially when sectors are shut and in lockdown.  So March-July 2021 compares to 2019 not to 2020 i.e. two years back, not one, to account for this period of the first lockdown.

The impact of the pandemic in Scotland is clearly seen to be, as expected, mainly a non-food retail issue.  Whilst panic-buying of food in March 2020 is apparent, the food data is pretty consistent by comparison to non-food.  Here the first lockdown, followed by slow recovery and then further restrictions followed by a massive release in 2021 is seen.  Non-food retailing has been tough.

The Scotland and UK trends are pretty mirroring, though more extreme in Scotland (possibly a scale effect in part).  The three month average dampens this a bit, but the patterns remain.  In the UK sequence the early 2021 close-down is not really apparent.  The final graph shows the same broad pattern, though with an oddity around April 2020.

Note that the Y axis on these charts varies so care has to be taken in reading across charts.

What other comments might be made?  First, the latter part of 2021 has seen a better performance from Scottish retailing (partly to do with weaker comparators no doubt) and it is only in the very recent month(s) that this has reversed. Secondly, the double dip pattern of the 2020/21 sequence is well marked.

Retailers must be concerned that Omicron is going to see these sames pattern return.  One hopes not, as the sector has been radically affected over the last two years, as the first set of graphs so vividly portrays.

Posted in BRC, Covid19, Food Retailing, Lockdown, Non-food retailing, Pandemic, Retail Sales, Retailers, Sales, Scotland, Scottish Retail Consortium, Scottish Retail Sales, Scottish Retailing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2021 : the year in retrospect

My reflections this time last year noted that in the ten years of running this blog, 2020 had seen it attract the most visitors in a year.  2020 saw more than 70% more visitors than any previous year.

Well, the volume in 2021 has matched that of last year and even seen a few hundred more visitors.

In looking at the posts that attracted that volume in 2020 I divided them into three sections. First, was food retailing change, which included the top post (on grocery market shares in the UK 2020).  Second, and not at all surprisingly was the impact of Covid.  Then third were what I called the outliers (and included posts on Co-operative Tokens and London’s Welsh Dairies).

I concluded that 2021 was bound to be better but we had to reinvent places to attract people.

The top posts in 2021 bear a striking similarity to those of 2020 with only 4 new posts making the top 10.  Some of my old posts have an enduring appeal it seems (or people still can’t quite believe what they are reading). As last year I can perhaps categorise the top 10:

Food Retailing Change

Two posts make the top ten using the Kantar data, but not my 2021 update post.  The top post again is Grocery Market Shares in the UK 2020, supported by Twenty-One Years of UK Grocery Retailing Change (#4). There remains an interest in these market share reports, probably mainly from students, with UK a bigger search term than GB.

A New Future for Scotland’s Towns

Not surprisingly the release in February 2020 of the report of the review of the Town Centre Action Plan, chaired and written by myself, drew a lot of attention.  Three posts on the blog made the top 10; the webinar on the launch (#6), my introduction to the report (#7) and a post that summarised the main recommendations of the report (stop doing harm to our town centres – #10). Given the full report is available from the Government and the Review websites, this seems a reasonable coverage.

Retail Change

A pair of posts on aspects of current retail change provide a further strand, one positive and one negative.  The former on the new wave of town centre cinemas came in at #2, whilst a post on John Lewis Leaving Aberdeen, was post #8.  Two very different views on the reinvention of places we need.

The Outliers (or history?)

As last year the top 10 is filled out with some outliers.  Two are the same as last year, and all three have an historic dimension.  London’s Welsh Dairies has had an even stronger (#3) year than 2020 (#6) whilst the post on Co-operative Tokens, Sports Direct and the Bristol Pound again did well (#5 not #4).  The new post in this heading/strand – Retail change or why we fell in love with supermarkets (#9) – could be in the retail change section, but with its historical bias perhaps belongs here.

When I wrote last year’s summary I thought 2021 would be better than 2020, and it has been in so many ways.  But it has been challenging on so many levels, in so many ways, and particularly for the retail sector.  Let’s hope 2022 is a Happy New Year.

When it looked like things were getting better – my one and only face to face presentation in 2021 (at the SGF Annual Conference)
Posted in Aberdeen, Cooperative Tokens, Covid19, Food Retailing, History, John Lewis Partnership, New Future for Scotland's Towns, Pandemic, Public Policy, Retail Change, Retail History, Retail Policy, Retailers, Retailing, Scotland, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scotland's Towns Partnership, Scottish Government, Scottish Grocers Federation, Scottish Retailing, Social Renewal, Town Centre Action Plan, Town Centre Action Plan Review Group, Town Centre Review, Town Centres, Towns | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Covid Variants, Retailing and this Christmas

Access the Full Article at the Economics Observatory

A couple of weeks ago, I pondered putting together something again about the Christmas 2021 retail season.  Whilst there were strains over supply and labour availability, retailing seemed set for something much more normal.

At about the same time, the same idea occurred to the people running the Economics Observatory.  I have produced two pieces for them before, the first on the initial impact of Covid on retailing and the second on Covid and Christmas 2020.  This blog has featured these pieces as well (first and second). They also felt an update for Christmas 2021 was warranted.

Of course what then happened was the explosion of the Omicron variant, ‘Plan B’ in England, the reintroduction of restrictions on retailing and hospitality in Scotland and Wales and a general sense of nervousness and caution. And that seems not likely to be the end point.

To that can also be added ongoing stresses and strains in the supply chain due both to Brexit and Covid, a 10 year high inflation rate driven by energy and fuel costs rising, an interest rate rise from the Bank of England and general concern over the sector and economic position.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

So I pressed on, and my Economics Observatory piece is published today and can be found here.  I do not intend to replicate it here in full in this post, but I will try to summarise briefly the lines of argument.

Christmas is vital for retailers and the run-up this year has been anything but smooth.  The patterns of sales by sector, place and channel remain affected by the pandemic.  Operational challenges for retailers abound and will be added to by the new variant, isolation and the new regulations.  Retailers have gone to great lengths to keep retailing safe, operational and interesting in the run-up to Christmas.  But there is no doubt that there is more nervousness around than a few weeks ago, and uncertainty has returned.

We are though in a much better position than we were a year ago, and consumer confidence levels have been higher.  Yes, there are concerns and we do not know how things will pan out with Omicron. Vaccines and boosters though are at high levels and people seem to be respectful of the challenges, the steps taken and the need to be careful.  They are making their own choices to reduce activity. Whilst ‘lockdown’ is being bandied about, with sense we may be able to avoid the retail lockdowns of the last 21 months.

Christmas may not be normal again this year, but it will be better than last year hopefully. Much of the Christmas purchasing has taken place or is in place ahead of the weekend. There are great retailers, local and independent and others, doing all they can to deliver a great Christmas in what have been difficult circumstances.  They need your support.

The full Economics Observatory piece with a lot more detail, data and discussion can be accessed here.

Posted in Boxing Day, Brexit, Christmas, Cities, Consumers, Covid19, Government, Inflation, Internet shopping, Online Retailing, Opening Hours, Pandemic, Retailers, Supply Chains, Town Centres, Towns | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Queen Bees : Q-commerce, the on-demand world and the changing meaning of online retailing

Online retailing is now close to 30 years old.  It has seen an almost relentless growth over much of this period, accelerated by events such as Black Friday and Christmas, and more recently super-charged by the pandemic and lockdown.  The graph of the increasing penetration of online sales in the UK has become well known.


What is meant by online or internet shopping seems to be changing though.  The general understanding of online retailing is perhaps a retailer selling by a website or app and remotely fulfilling the order from a distant distribution centre.  Amazon is a classic incarnation of this, but it is a standard model across much of retailing.

A second variant of online retailing uses the same starting point of an app or a website, but with the fulfilment coming from a/the local store.  Tesco started with this store-based model and achieved great first mover advantages and national coverage. In some situations, and again Tesco is an example, retailers began to organise urban fulfilment from ‘dark’ stores; stores not open to the public but designed to satisfy high online demand in a defined high density area.  This gives penetration and coverage in dense urban areas, but without compromising store operations.  

In the pandemic we saw a major expansion of a local model of store fulfilment, with local fulfilment from local convenience stores.  Indeed, it was one of the elements of the success the convenience store sector has had over the last 20 months of Covid.   Services such as Snappy Shopper, Appy Shop and Jisp have emerged to help this process, and it is becoming increasingly common.

This local concept has developed further such that speed of delivery has become a general focus with within 15, 30 or 60 minutes promised.  Some of this can be store based but increasingly we see a trend to local ‘darkness’ as in dark kitchens or dark convenience stores.  Such “stores” offer a cut down range in small operations and focus on fast local delivery. Others are basing their operations on existing stores. This market is exploding and entrants such as Getir, Gorillas, Jiffy, Zapp and Weezy (now bought by Getir) are the tip of a growing iceberg. Tesco offer their Tesco Whoosh service (see also Sainsbury Chop Chop) and recently announced a trial with Gorillas using a unit within spare space in a Tesco store. With Deliveroo Hop teamed up with Morrisons, JustEat and Asda, and Ocado Zoom, ultra-fast delivery (q-commerce) is in a rapid experimentation and development phase.

There are many issues in this online model, not least sustainability and environmental aspects, though these may be mitigated in a local home delivery model, especially if returning to “old-fashioned” methods such as bikes. For the large multinationals there remain tax questions. For the workers there are questions over wages, contracts, status, holidays, pensions and the panoply of the gig economy. The costs of the service is an issue for customers and one has to question the viability of some of the models, given the cash being spent, the discounts offered and the lack of returns.

The popularity of ultra-fast delivery also asks questions of society and economy – it is hard for me to shake an analogy of a immobile Queen Bee (the consumer) being serviced by hordes of worker drones (the deliveries) – which is not what I think of as community.

There are concerns with “dark” operations and especially perhaps the smaller darker formats.  Dark convenience stores may be on industrial or warehouse sites or possibly on car parks deemed redundant or under used.  They can take life and business away from neighbourhoods, communities and high streets.  They are also likely to be business rated as non-retail businesses and so gain a cost advantage from this (and other operations) when compared to traditional convenience and retail sites.  This is despite essentially performing the same basic function. Staffing via the gig economy will be very different to physical stores. Our thinking about costs and competition, and comparisons with traditional operations, trail the business reality of these new approaches, and need to catch up.

This changing face of online retailing and its fulfilment raises some fundamental issues about how retailing integrates into our communities and how its services should be valued.  If we don’t think through the implications of ‘dark’ fulfilment sites then we risk damaging traditional retail business to the detriment of many. Some of their advantage stems from what they offer; some is due to the reduced cost base they can get away with (often from the taxation system). Either way they need to be treated seriously.

Posted in Amazon, Availability, Black Friday, Community, Consumer Lifestyle, Consumers, Convenience stores, Customer Service, Dark Stores, Employment practices, Food Retailing, Home, Home Delivery, Internet, Internet shopping, Just in Time, Office for National Statistics, On demand retailing, Online Retailing, Q-commerce, Retailers, Retailing, Shopping | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Season’s Greetings

As Chair of Scotland’s Towns Partnership (STP) I get to put a Christmas message in the final bulletin of the year which goes out to members. This is an appropriate opportunity to reflect briefly on the last year generally and for STP in particular and I thought I might reproduce it here. More widely may I wish all readers wherever you are in the world, season’s greetings and a Happy New Year. May 2022 be an improvement.

“The continued rampaging of Covid19 throughout the world and its effects on economy and society need no rehearsal.  We have all been touched by it, and with the emergence of Omicron, are now facing up to dealing with yet more pressures.  Towns across Scotland have had a better year than 2020, with something more closely approaching normal, especially after the first few months of the year, and the relationship of citizens with place has deepened further.

But we still need to support our towns and STP has been delighted to play a leading role in this.  The Town Centre Action Plan Review, published in February 2021 as ‘A New Future for Scotland’s Towns’ sets out a medium term vision and path for our towns.  Whilst we await the formal response from Scottish Government and COSLA, we can already see some impact and alignment via the draft National Planning Framework 4 and the Place Based Investment Programme. It was a pleasure to lead and write the Review report and to see STP engage throughout 2021 with obtaining reactions and identifying practical ways forward to deliver the vision the Review provided.

More immediately though, STP has been instrumental in the Scotland Loves Local delivery programme and now the Scotland Loves Local Gift Card programme.  We have also been responsible for managing recovery funds (over £6m) targeted at local initiatives including via the BIDs.

STP exists to further the position of Scotland’s Towns and to coordinate, amplify and celebrate the great work that is done at the local level in towns across Scotland.  There have been many challenges over the last 20 months, but I have never been but amazed and humbled by what has been done on the ground in communities across Scotland.  It is that which makes me more convinced than ever that our towns have a bright, vibrant and successful future.  Thanks to all for all your efforts.

May I wish you all the very best for this festive season and for a successful, prosperous and hopefully more normal 2022. “

Leigh Sparks, Professor of Retail Stduies and Chair, Scotland’s Towns Partnership

Posted in Bids Scotland, Community, Covid19, Gift Card, Localisation, New Future for Scotland's Towns, NPF4, Pandemic, Place Based Investment Programme, Scotland Loves Local, Scotland's Improvement Districts, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scottish Government, Town Centre Action Plan, Town Centre Action Plan Review Group, Town Centre Review, Town Centres, Towns | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research: change of editor

The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research: Vol  31, No 5

As many will know, I have been involved in editing journals for a very long time.  In particular I have been associated with the International Review of Retail Distribution and Consumer Research since its inception.  For the last few years I have been looking to step down as editor and have finally achieved this goal.  I have just completed the publication of the final issue under my editorship.

In the final issue under my tenure I have allowed myself the luxury of an editorial looking back over the founding and development of IRRDCR.  The editorial – origins, reflections and ending – started out as a brief goodbye, but somehow turned in a 6000 word musing on retail academic journal publishing, the rise of metrics on journals and academics and the changing nature of the academic endeavour (and its management).  Some of this I view as positive, but other changes have had a damaging impact on the subject and its study, and on journal (and other forms of) publication.

I don’t intend to summarise in depth the editorial here (and it is too long to provide), but if you are interested then the first 50 people should be able to download the final published version from here. A pre-proof version is provided as a pdf here.

I will provide though a brief description of its contents.  The first section provides details of the origins of IRRDCR (and why it is such a mouthful) arising as it did from the break-up of the relationships behind the short-lived International Journal of Retailing.  This section also explains the particular approach we (Founding Editor Professor John Dawson and I) stood for and tried to champion, arising from a distinctive European approach to retail research and a counterpoint to the approach to academic retail research in the United States.

The second section provides two sets of reflections; first on the editorial process and then secondly on retail research itself.  The IRRDCR began in pre-email and pre-internet times and ends where everything (almost) is automated.  There are benefits and drawbacks to this, and I discuss some of them.  Retail research itself has altered as the wider pressures of academia and its management of the ‘research process’ have taken their toll.  Again, I reflect on these changes and the stresses and strains they produce (as well as the benefits). I hope that through all this, IRRDCR has tried to reflect a more engaged and interesting agenda, but fear the trends are too powerful.

Anyhow, the International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research is now in new editorial hands, Professor Ulf Johansson from Lund University, and it will be interesting to see how it develops.


Leigh Sparks (2021) Editorial – origins, reflections and ending. The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, 31, 5, 499-510.

Posted in Academics, Editorship, Education, IRRDCR, Research, Retail Research, University of Stirling | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Oxford Street, Hull and Beyond

I have never really understood the fascination with Oxford Street as the retail heart of the UK.  I get that there are some great buildings, but as a shopping street, though not a great streetscape, it has never worked for me.  Too incoherent, too jammed with traffic and the retail is not always that inspiring.

But as I say, it does have some iconic and interesting buildings, though if Marks and Spencer have their way there will be one less.  Their proposals to knock down their store and replace it with a mixed used development has attracted considerable negativity, though the local council seems to be in favour.

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The criticism seems to be a three main bases.  First, the existing building is an attractive one that adds to the feel of Oxford Street as well as having architectural merit in its own right.  Secondly, knocking down buildings seems to be environmentally unfriendly and given M&S’s avowed Plan B type credentials, seems at odds with their rhetoric and position.  Then thirdly, the proposed replacement has been widely derided as bland, identikit, building by numbers.

One subset of this is the loss of embedded carbon from the existing building.  Why is this ignored and why does it so often seem to be cheaper, easier and more acceptable to knock down than refurbish and reuse?  There are obvious reasons for this but if we actually valued our built (carbon) environment properly and fed this into our encouragements/discouragements financially, perhaps we’d get a better outcome.

At the same time as the Oxford Street knockdown story, I was tweeted (thanks @sto_paul) a BBC story about a Hull Department Store being reused and reopened.  There are obvious differences between the stores and between Oxford Street and Hull, but I really hope this re-use works, both in its own right and to show what can be done.

And, at exactly the same time, my copy of a small visual pamphlet by Esther Johnson on “Ships in the Sky – the Co-op connection” landed on my front door.  Published by the modernist, it is a short pictorial story of the Alan Boyson mural, its Co-op background and design from the wider Co-op product and brands.  It is a little celebration of Co-op design building on how Ships in the Sky (and the two other murals) responded to the Co-op brief to ‘unite the community through art’.  I was particularly taken by the contrast between the wide shot of the Ships in the Sky and the close-up of one part of it (which I juxtapose below).  The detail showing a small section of the one million plus glass tesserae in the mural makes you comprehend the efforts, enormity, detail and beauty involved.

As with the Oxford Street M&S store, The Ships in the Sky was slated for demolition (I have written about this before), but thankfully that is no longer the case.  Whilst we can not (should not) save all our past, we need not to reach immediately for the wrecking ball but consider what these buildings and art say about us, the places they occupy and the organisations which shape them.


Johnson E. (2021) Ships in the Sky – The Co-op Connection. Available from

Posted in Architecture, Buildings, Campaigns, Cooperative Group, Cooperatives, Department Stores, Historic Shops, History, Hull, Marks and Spencer, Oxford Street, Places, Regeneration, Retail History, Streetscapes, Town Centres, Towns, Urban History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment