Letter: Superstores have passed their sell-by date

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Sir: Bill Robinson (letter, 26 June) claims that superstores' competitors cannot match their prices. It is important to distinguish the economies of scale arising from the size of a retail chain from those arising from the size of the individual outlets. A large chain can buy in bulk more cheaply than a small one, but whether the goods are sold through (say) 200 conventional supermarkets or 40 superstores makes only a s1ight difference. One-stop shopping is also possible with shops much smaller than superstores.

Mr Robinson sees superstores as a response to "the basic needs of a car- borne society". But it is now widely agreed that a fundamental aim of transport policy should be to enable people to satisfy basic needs such as grocery shopping without having to use cars.

We need a long-term strategy to phase out superstores. The first step is to stop building more of them. In the article which sparked off this correspondence (27 May), Peter Popham said that a further 400 superstores might be built in the next three years. The Department of the Environment does not want this development, but unfortunately its guidelines are worded in a way that permits it, and officials claim that to revoke the planning permissions now would involve "astronomical" payments in compensation. We need to know the actual amounts; it might well be better to pay than to continue on this mistaken path. For existing shops, the strategy should be to discourage long-distance car travel while facilitating access on foot or by bus. The Government should legislate to ensure that parking is properly priced and that all shops over a certain size provide a local delivery service.

Yours faithfully,

Stephen Plowden

London, NW1

26 June