Editor-At-Large: Harrogate's fall to Tesco is yet another victory for the bland

Related Topics

Well done, Tesco! Your masterplan for total domination of the UK is complete. Last week, Harrogate – the only postcode in Britain not blessed with a full-sized emporium – finally caved in. After a protracted public battle, which started in 2004 when the retailer paid £3.5m for a site north of the town, the planning committee has finally given a revised scheme the thumbs-up. It still has to be approved by a full council meeting, and the health and safety executive can ask for a public inquiry, but deep down, in their heart of hearts, the middle-class residents of HG3 know the battle is all but over. Tesco has arrived. Harrogate will soon be just like everywhere else.

I've shopped in Harrogate for 30 years, since coming to live 15 miles away in Upper Nidderdale. I won't be shedding any tears over Tesco, though, as their victory represents just the latest stage in the blanding of a once elegant, distinctive 19th-century spa town. The story of Harrogate parallels the decline of the British high street, laid out in stark reality in a comprehensive report published last week.

On average, one in seven shops are currently empty, but in the worst places the rate is one in three. Up and down the land, town centres are abandoned, unwelcoming, dismal places. Once thriving seaside resorts like Blackpool have a quarter of all retail outlets boarded up. Not exactly a magnet for visitors.

This survey shows that Mary Portas, charged by the Government to come up with ideas to breathe life into high streets, faces an impossible task. She should resign and save her efforts – the high street has changed for good; and with few signs that the recession is receding, consumers have neither the will nor the cash to spend kick-starting any rejuvenation.

At the end of the day, Harrogate is a wealthy, middle-class place, with unemployment running at just 1.9 per cent against the national average of 9.1 per cent. The population grew by just 1,800 people in the past year. There's been an increase in drink and drug abuse, antisocial behaviour and bad driving, but nothing on the scale of most major cities. Harrogate isn't on the skids, but the town's character has really taken a knock. To be brutally honest, Harrogate is now no different from Winchester, Portsmouth, Bristol or Bath. Bland and boring, not worth a visit.

Harrogate once had a market building full of small traders, bang opposite the station. A wonderful Victorian grocery store stood on the next corner. Both vanished decades ago, in spite of vociferous campaigns to prevent their destruction. And where small traders once flourished we were given a shopping mall called Victoria Place, one of the ugliest buildings in Britain. The pedestrianised heart of Harrogate is packed with chain stores, including Marks & Spencer. There's a Waitrose by the station, an Asda by the conference centre, a huge Sainsbury's south of the town centre. With Tesco, supermarket shoppers have an abundance of choice, but the cost has been the individual retailers which made the place special.

The number of butchers and grocers and small businesses operating is small. They can't compete. The same has happened with cafés squeezed out by fast food and coffee chains. Now Harrogate has been "blessed" with a new all-day restaurant called Victus opposite the bus and train stations. The menu has nothing to do with Yorkshire, but features a melange of culinary styles from around the world: salmon with Nori rice and spicy pulled pork chilli "hot meal box", whatever that is, and a New York Sandwich.

The restaurant is backed by F1 driver Jenson Button, who turned up for the opening last week. The menu is made up of food he's enjoyed on his travels, and there are plans to roll out the formula as a chain. Victus sums up where dining out in our ailing town centres is heading, the same bland version of international cuisine. Jamie Oliver has already done this with his Italian diners. The future is famous faces selling their personal taste.

Sainsbury's has just opened its 400th Local store – and claims this is benefiting local high streets. But these stores aren't helping the small businesses they replace. We've killed off our town centres by rating convenience over everything else.

Indigestible hilarity at any Price

I recommend the new Katie Price magazine – a hilarious read, for just £3.99. Why wasn't this renaissance woman doing stand-up in Edinburgh?

Katie reveals lots we never knew about her, admitting to being addicted to junk food and "proper" tea. She doesn't specify whether she heats the pot and uses real leaves. Somehow I doubt it.

Katie shares her recipes (I use the word loosely) for a slap up Sunday lunch, including instruction on how to wash the "blood and stuff" off a leg of lamb. She mashes her spuds with "near enough" a tub of butter (no packets in this house). There's vegetable "smash" achieved by boiling up a load of carrots and swede and blending them with more butter and milk.

The finishing touches are tinned or frozen peas and sweetcorn, frozen Yorkshire puds, and readymade cauliflower cheese. Sounds like a meal for people with no teeth – maybe there's something else this diva hasn't told us.

At least Katie gets in the kitchen. Madonna told an interviewer last week she couldn't cook at all but loved bangers and mash, mushy peas and sticky toffee pudding. She must eat thimble-sized portions. Later, she backtracked claiming she can boil an egg and make a Rice Krispies treat. I think I'd rather dine chez Katie, thanks.

Teddies steal Perry's show

Grayson Perry, the cross-dressing ceramicist, is curating an exhibition of his work and historical treasures at the British Museum, from next month.

Pride of place will be given to Alan Measles, his legendary teddy bear, along with three other bears who have won the right to be displayed (in rotation) in a shrine on Grayson's motorbike. The museum ran a competition to find bears with interesting histories – the finalists included Fag Burn Blue and Dr Schmoo.

The BM's director, Neil MacGregor, won awards for his radio series History of the World in 100 Objects – surely these these plucky characters deserve the same treatment. Will they join the museum's permanent collection, to be displayed alongside the Elgin Marbles?

Use your brains: Avoid Google

Some female contestants on University Challenge are being abused by nasty people on-line.

Marie Debray, who represented Balliol College last year, has been subjected to sexist jokes and unflattering comments on social networking sites.

Other contestants have had their pictures posted next to pictures of male genitalia. Telly bosses have offered the women counselling and a help line to call, but surely the answer is not to Google your name, and the problem is solved.

Why look up rubbish about yourself online anyway? I am sure that these highly intelligent females have far more productive ways of spending their time. Most chatrooms, like Twitter, are the home of the socially challenged.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
President Barack Obama walks with U.S. Secret Service agents to Air Force One at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Calif., May 8, 2014.  

Obama's Secret Service has become sloppy with its delusions of Hollywood grandeur

David Usborne
Chancellor George Osborne got a standing ovation from the Tories for a package of tough measures  

The Conservative party would have us believe that the poor deserve to be punished

Andreas Whittam Smith
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?