Save the village

THE ‘Save Our Village’ campaign against the Co-Op opening a new supermarket in Belsize Park has one or two echoes of the way the villagers helped stopped both Tesco and Sainsbury’s opening in the area a couple of years ago.

While local councillors supported the opposition then, one of the most senior figures at the Town Hall at the time, Theo Blackwell –  the Labour councillor later hired by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan to be City Hall’s tech guru – was less sympathetic. “They are presenting the neighbourhood once again as too posh for normal shops everyone else uses,” he said.

Tom Conti who had supported the campaign naturally hated being called a ‘livid luvvie’ by Cllr Blackwell and when Tim Lamden, the former Ham and High reporter who had by then moved to the Daily Mail, rang to ask the actor, or the ‘Shirley Valentine actor’ to use his correct newspaper prefix, what he thought of Mr Blackwell’s comments, Conti suggested the word luvvie was as discriminatory as the n-word. How things can escalate….

This time around some people are making a distinction between the campaigns against Tesco and Sainsbury’s and the new attempt to ward off Co-Op from the boarded up XO restaurant, arguing that this one is even more important because the road – Belsize Lane – is certainly more village-like than Haverstock Hill. The prospect of delivery lorries is filling locals with dread, and businesses say they will struggle to compete with supermarket muscle. When the story did the rounds in the local press last week, there was nevertheless also a reaction from some readers from beyond the village boundaries that trying to preserve a village within a city like London is now long-lost dream. We’ll see.

More intriguing for followers of niche blogs about local politics is the appearance of Conservative councillors in the demo pictures – you can spot Oliver Cooper, Maria Higson and Steve Adams. This brought out Hamish Hunter, who is currently challenging the party over the way he was ‘deselected’ as a candidate in Hampstead before May’s council election, and his trusty facepalm emoji.

“We used to be the Party of shopkeepers and grocers. Now we’re the party of boarded-up restaurants and empty shopfronts. Well done, guys,” he tweeted with a sarcastic round of applause.

Later he said the local independent shops could thrive regardless of whether or not the Co-Op moved in, and questioned why campaigners were protective of the existing Budgen’s in Haverstock Hill. “Local councillors should not interfere with the market by protecting one supermarket chain over another – it’s ‘picking winners’ economics at its worst and is *not* Conservative,” he added.

While the awkward relationship between former campaign colleagues will make it easy to dismiss Mr Hunter’s sharp commentary as sour grapes, not too much digging finds he is not completely alone in the local Conservative membership who believe the party should be holding onto the view that good competition and choice helps drive up standards


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