Campaigners fought an application for a large Tesco in the small town of Castle Douglas in the Dumfries and Galloway region. Despite Castle Douglas' status as a 'Food Town,' a designation intended to promote and link-up the town's farming, tourism and independent retail, campaigners could not halt the Tesco application.
1.1 Castle Douglas is a small (4000 population) town in the Dumfries and Galloway region of south west Scotland. Planned as a 'cotton town' in 1790, it failed as an industrial centre but succeeded as a market, shopping and service centre for a dispersed rural population. The town still has a weekly livestock market and farming (dairy, beef and sheep) remains the mainstay of the local economy. Tourism and food processing are more recent developments, and increasingly important economically.
1.2 In 2000 it was suggested that Castle Douglas should market and promote itself as a 'Food Town' as a way to linkup farming, food processing, tourism and the town's many independent retailers and food businesses. [This idea was directly inspired by the Soil Association's Food Futures initiative which encouraged the development of locally sustainable food economies]. Castle Douglas Food Town was launched in May 2002.
1.3 Although no direct threat existed in 2000, the potential for the town to be damaged by a supermarket development was a factor in my advocacy of the Food Town project. The aim was to get the Food Town 'embedded' in local planning, tourism and economic development policies. This has been achieved, but (see below) failed to prevent the Tesco development.
2. Tesco Campaign - March 2004 to April 2005
2.1 Preceded in late 2003 by rumours, in February 2004 Tesco submitted a planning proposal for the erection of a 2700sq m Class A Food Store, cafe and filling station. The development was to be located on the edge of Castle Douglas. An area (formerly the town's railway station) occupied by a garage and garden centre and separated from the town centre by a five-spur roundabout.
2.2 In March 2004, I submitted a formal four page planning objection on behalf of residents in the immediate vicinity. This was based on relevant national (Scottish, but derived from English) regional and local planning regulations and advice notes.
2.3 I had expected local businesses to object strongly to the proposed development, but this did not happen. Therefore in May 2004 I set up 'Save our Stewarty Shops', following informal discussions with local businesses. In retrospect I should have responded more promptly to the warning signs some of these discussions revealed. Specifically, members of the Food Town Management Committee told me they had been advised (off record) by councillors and council officers that there was no point in opposing Tesco - that if Tesco wanted to come to Castle Douglas, no-one could stop them. However, since other businesses were supportive, Save our Stewartry Shops continued. Over 1000 people signed a petition against the Tesco development. In June it was agreed that the campaign would adopt a twin-track approach - a public/ media campaign and a detailed planning issues one.
2.4 Several planning objections were made by Save our Stewartry Shops on behalf of local businesses. The main focus of these objections was on the likely impact of the development on the 'vitality and viability' of Castle Douglas town centre - but also on the neighbouring towns of Dalbettie and Kirkcudbright.and village shops . Save our Stewartry Shops was supported by 20 local businesses - mainly from Castle Douglas, but also Dalbeattie and Kirkcudbright.
2.5 The public/media campaign was highly successful. We achieved 'blanket' coverage at the immediate local level on a weekly basis for six months via The Galloway News [local paper published in Castle Douglas], frequent attention in regional media [newspapers, radio and ITV Border TV], national [Scottish] radio, TV and newspapers and even UK/ international level [Mail on Sunday, Radio 4 Today and You and Yours plus Time magazine] interest. Unfortunately, UK level interest has been a 'slow burn' process, most of it coming after planning permission was granted in April 2005.
2.6 On the planning side- which was the critical aspect- the result was failure. Critically, Tesco had already gained planning permission for a mega (9000 sq m) store on the edge of Dumfries. Dumfries and Galloway Council refused permission twice, but Tesco gained approval on appeal to the Scottish Executive. I am sure this affected the outcome in Castle Douglas. Dumfries and Galloway Council were not prepared to take on Tesco again.
3. Tips for opposing Tesco development
3.1 Tesco are now so big and powerful that it is extremely difficult for oppose them, even with the community behind you.
3.2 Possibly, if we had concentrated all our resources on raising enough funds to employ a top level planning law expert, we could have won on planning technicalities.
For further information about the campaign in Castle Douglas please read campaigner Donald Henry's account of the campaign here.