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Local retail in 2014 and now: Spot the difference

"Where do you go for your food shopping?" It's a common enough question. Around this part of the world, the answer will often be: "I first get into a traffic queue." A fuller story might run something like: "Then I have to find somewhere free in the supermarket car park, then there always seem to be lots of shoppers in every aisle where I need to go, then there's a long queue at the checkout. Then there’s another queue to get out of the car park. Food shopping seems to take a lot longer than it used to."

            If that's your story, living in Shinfield, Arborfield or Barkham, no surprise. Consider the population growth in the area over the last 10 years or so. The three parishes show a total population growing from 17,730 in 2011 to 25,198 in 2021 (a 42% increase), according to census figures. Or for a more up-to-date picture, we can see how the numbers of registered electors grew in those parishes, up till last year:-

              *Or nearest election year (Barkham and Arborfield)


Now let’s look at where food shopping outlets were in 2014, as compared with now. The two maps show supermarket locations accessible from Shinfield, Arborfield and Barkham, and the location of convenience stores (C). Can you spot the difference?

There are no more local supermarkets or convenience stores now than there were 10 years ago!


But surely our local planners wanted the near 50% increase in the local population to be catered for by more retail outlets, didn’t they? So you would think, and indeed the 2010 Local Growth Plan set out where they should be: in the Strategic Development Locations west of Shinfield, and on the former Arborfield Garrison site. Fourteen years on, however, go to the West of Shinfield and Arborfield Green SDLs, and all you’ll see is… new houses. No shops of any kind.       


No foundations laid


Planning applications for supermarkets have been received in Shinfield (2023) and Arborfield (2024), but no foundations have yet been laid. They may never happen. And even those planning applications were not put in until six years or so after people started moving into the new houses.

            So what can we make of Wokingham Council’s Local Plan Update proposing an SDL with 4,500 houses at Hall Farm, between Shinfield and Arborfield?

            It has an artist’s impression of a nicely laid out ‘garden village’ with local centres, one of which is supposed to include a ‘food store’ (NB: Floor size not stated). How long would that store take to materialise? Six years? Ten years?  That's the time-frame we've seen so far with the previous big housing development projects. And in the meantime, what would people do for food shopping? Well, they'd get in their cars, thousands more of them, and head for just the same supermarkets and convenience stores that were already in the area back in 2014.      

            You might think that there are council planners who would be against that extra traffic pollution, damage to the environment etc., you know, all the things that WBC was so concerned about when it announced its climate emergency in 2019. But apparently they're not bothered.

            Perhaps they have other plans for dealing with traffic. Perhaps they dream of 15-minute communities where everyone gets stuff delivered that they can't buy within 15 minutes from home? 


Broken model


In the meantime, WBC’s own figures, published with its new transport plan proposal, show that barely 10% of Borough residents walk to the shops. In our area it must be an even lower figure, and what the Council is proposing in the LPU won't change that any time soon. Another 4,500 houses and 9,000 cars at Hall Farm would make the position far worse.

            Surely most town planners now agree that the late 20th century model of driving everywhere for shopping is broken. An SDL at Hall Farm would mean a big increase in car use, especially for the ‘weekly shop’. So why are the Council officials at Shute End doing their best to keep that failed model going?

            And why promote an SDL that will have the opposite effect of what their climate emergency announcement called for?



Pat Phillipps


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