When we think of economic protectionism we usually think of tariffs (taxes) imposed on imported goods to make them more expensive, or of businesses aggressively lobbying Government or the EU to construct barriers that will make it more difficult for others to enter the market place.
But protectionism does take other forms. Hull City Council is trying to protect the city centre from market forces by blocking the expansion of Kingswood Retail Park. Unsurprisingly, the owner of Princes Quay Shopping Centre and members of the city centre Business Improvement District (BID) agree. Jobs will be lost, they say, if Kingswood is allowed to expand. Robert Mellor, an independent planning inspector, agreed with them, but his is a pyrrhic victory.
Councils could, to a certain degree, get away with this type of policy in the past, but that was before the advent of online shopping.
I live in Woodmansey. My wife and I only venture into Hull city centre when we really have to. We could travel by bus, but that isn’t cheap. We also have a 18 month-old toddler which means it is far easier to take the car, especially when you have bulky items to transport.
We did almost all of our Christmas shopping online. We bought some items from shops in Kingswood and Beverley, but we never considered going into Hull city centre. Parking is a major issue. It’s also difficult to plough your way through the traffic. If new shops had opened at Kingswood, we would have used them. If the same shops open in the city centre, we will only use them when we really have to.
So far from creating more prosperity, the council’s decision is likely to encourage more people to seek online alternatives and in the process will lose jobs that would have been created elsewhere in the city for local people.
Instead of blocking progress elsewhere and attempting to fight against market forces, the council (and the BID) should be investigating the causes of a lack of footfall and addressing them. Traffic, parking, and too many shops that I don’t want to shop in are top of my list. Kingswood is relatively easily to access, parking is free, and I think I have visited every shop on the development.
If you live near Kingswood, where would you want to shop?