Stay away from Mill Road! said Local Secrets readers who responded to our call for comments on the proposed Tesco on Mill Road. Most praised the diversity of Mill Road, noted the high number of Tesco branches already in Cambridge and warned of damage to such a well-loved place. “It will be completely out of keeping with the present atmosphere of lovely small local shops”, said respondent. “When I was a lad Mill Road was Diagon Alley to my dad”, said another. Just like the hidden street for wizards in the Harry Potter books, Mill Road was talked of as magical, worth preserving and something firmly better off without one more chain store.
But not everyone had scorn to pour on chains. “I would love to see Woolworths opening… I have to keep travelling to Newmarket to shop in their branch”.
When word got out recently that Tesco were applying for planning permission to support the opening of a new express store on the former Wilco site on Mill Road, a grass roots campaign was launched in opposition. ‘Say No to Mill Road Tesco Campaign’ spokesman Richard Rippon said the action awakened “the sense of community… Tesco showed us what is here”.
The campaign has focused on concerns about anti-competitive practices, the increased volume of traffic another store would bring and the threat a chain store brings to Cambridge’s most diverse shopping thoroughfare. “Mill Road is something worth preserving for the whole of Cambridge” added Rippon. Campaigners have spearheaded a petition to the City Council with over 4,000 names along with 800 objections by email and more by post.
An extraordinary meeting by the planning department scheduled to for the end of November will deal with the large number of objections. Local politicians across the parties have also shown keenness to be have a say, including Cambridge MP David Howarth, and leader of the council Ian Nimmo-Smith who has just referred Tesco to the Office of Fair Trading.
Retail giant Tesco already has three regular supermarkets in the city and four smaller express-style stores. As Tesco Corporate Affairs manager Michael Kissman told Local Secrets, over 90% of the urban UK has a choice of three supermarkets within a 15 minute drive, “Why would one more be a problem?” The proposed Mill Road Tesco is in the final stage of planning, with current applications pending for minor alterations to existing pre-approval. Kissman said the store would bring 20 full and part time jobs to the area and most customers would visit on foot. A meeting is currently being scheduled between the campaigners and Tesco representatives.