Sir: Your report (21 June) that Sainsbury's and other retail chains are planning to build superstores in Northern Ireland makes one wonder if we are capable of learning from our mistakes.
It is now generally acknowledged that the growth of superstores in Great Britain has been a disaster. It is not just that out-of-town stores have a devastating effect on town centres. Even if superstores are located in towns, the move towards a pattern of retail provision based on a small number of very large outlets, rather than a larger number small or medium- sized ones, brings more costs than benefits. Shopping journeys become longer and are made by car. The extra time and expense of travel may outweigh the savings, if there are any, of lower prices in the shop. Even if people gain a little as shoppers, everyone has to suffer the danger, pollution, noise and congestion created by the extra traffic. People without cars, the poorest members of society, no longer have a medium- sized supermarket close by and are therefore forced to rely on corner shops with their limited choice and high prices.
It is disappointing that the retail chains continue to follow this anti- social policy, but the real culprit is the planning system which permits superstores at all. This creates a winner-takes-all, loser-loses-all situation in which retailers are obliged to join the contest to build superstores, even if they would prefer not to.
Let us hope that all political parties in Northern Ireland will unite to resist this threat to the quality of life in their province.
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