‘Chastened’ Co-op to up its game in Jed

JEDBURGH , 5 August 2008'Len Wyse, jedburgh'Will be leafleting and visiting shops in Jedburgh to help restore the area to a visitor attraction, a refresh of shop frontages'(Photo by Rob Gray)
JEDBURGH , 5 August 2008'Len Wyse, jedburgh'Will be leafleting and visiting shops in Jedburgh to help restore the area to a visitor attraction, a refresh of shop frontages'(Photo by Rob Gray)

THE beleaguered Co-operative Group in Jedburgh is to step up its game after being widely panned by supporters of a new supermarket on the outskirts of the town.

The alleged inadequacy of the service currently provided at the main Co-op store in Jewellers Wynd and the satellite outlet in Canongate has been highlighted recently in a Facebook campaign – Voice and Choice – backing the creation of a new superstore at the former Oregon Homes site in Edinburgh Road at Jedburgh’s north-eastern gateway.

Sean Toal - Co-op

Sean Toal - Co-op

TheSouthern can reveal that, following overtures from local councillor Len Wyse, the Co-op group’s acting chief executive Sean Toal last week journeyed from Manchester to visit the main shop unannounced.

And, as a result, a major revamp of the premises is planned, along with a commitment to address product shortages and offer more locally-produced goods. In addition, shoppers in the town are being urged to join a Co-op customer panel “to provide feedback and help improve the stores in Jedburgh”.

The group, which is currently being recruited, will meet management representatives every four to six weeks.

As reported in TheSouthern last week, a public meeting overwhelmingly backed a resubmitted planning application by Kelso-based property developer Crabtree & Crabtree which has already had a bid to build a new supermarket rejected by Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee.

Councillors agreed that the site was earmarked for industrial use in the Local Plan and thus could not be used for retail purposes. Two of the town’s three councillors – Mr Wyse and Jim Brown – are in favour of the development, while the third, Sandy Scott, does not believe the new bid can succeed when the first one so patently failed on a matter of basic policy.

Last week’s meeting was organised by Selkirk-based public relations company Smithy House which represented Tesco in the retail giant’s abortive planning attempts to operate Kelso’s first major supermarket. That battle was won by Sainsbury’s which opened its outlet at Pinnaclehill earlier this year, but Smithy House’s involvement has led to speculation that Tesco could be the ultimate operators of the Jedburgh store if the planning bid is successful.

Regardless, the Jedburgh Traders’ Association (JTA), representing existing retailers in the town, is against the venture which, it claims, will inflict long-term damage on the vitality of an already-struggling High Street.

“I believe people who share our fears about the impact on trading in the town felt unable to properly voice their concerns at the public meeting which had the feel of a rally,” said JTA chairperson Diana Cairns. “But we had our own meeting this week [on Monday] and we remain convinced that, while there is a strong case for the Co-op to be subject to more competition, a supermarket so far from the town centre is a bad idea.”

Councillor Wyse said that while he believed a new supermarket would halt the leakage of retail turnover to neighbouring towns like Hawick, Kelso and Galashiels, he was very gratified at the Co-op plans to improve the shopping experience in Jedburgh.

He said: “I wrote to Mr Toal about the concerns of local people relating to empty shelves, too many own-brand goods and, generally, the inability of people in Jedburgh to do a complete weekly shop without leaving the town – issues which have all been cited by supporters of the new supermarket.”

Councillor Wyse added: “Mr Toal has clearly taken this on board and I was given further assurances on Monday by the Co-op’s regional operating manager Gerry Summers that a revamp of the main shop will take place in the new year. We have to remember that even if the resubmitted planning application [from Crabtree & Crabtree] or another proposal for another applicant for an even bigger store with a filling station are successful, Jedburgh will not get a new supermarket for at least 18 months.”

The councillor continued: “I welcome the consumer panel initiative and I would urge people who do not normally shop at the Co-op to get involved. I also welcome the commitment to use a new automated ordering system which will mean an end to empty shelves and allow unpopular products to be replaced by locally-sourced goods.

“The Co-op has clearly been chastened by the criticism it has received in the campaign surrounding the planning process and is stepping up its game which is good news all round.”

The Co-op’s Jedburgh operations manager Jason Mahulka told us: “We pride ourselves on being an important part of the local community and a customer panel is a good way to get feedback from existing shoppers and other local people. We want them to tell us what we could be doing better.”

The Co-op is looking for 14 people to sit on its panel. Details on how to apply are available at both Jedburgh outlets.