Dan Starr: Why an expanded Waitrose is excellent for Saffron Walden

Waitrose are moving ahead with the expansion of their supermarket in the centre of Saffron Walden. They started work this week. I think its great news for the town.

Over the last 20 years the supermarket chains have been building new big box stores outside towns because land was generally available and cheaper for them. The downside has been that it has sucked the life out of many town centres and people have to drive to pick up their groceries. But things have changed. The rise of Internet deliveries mean that many of those big stores just aren’t needed any more. Case in point, a few months ago Tesco pulled the plug on a big new Cambridgeshire store just before opening. And while this may partly be due to their financial woes, the way people shop has changed.

In Saffron Walden we have a Tesco on the edge of town, an Aldi outside the town boundary which will open in the summer, and a Waitrose in the centre of town. Three supermarkets give families price and range choice. And while the Aldi will be in a poor location, typically Tesco and Aldi compete on prices and many families use them for their weekly ‘big shop’.

Many people living in the centre of town do their weekly shop at Waitrose, and it also tends to be for top up and last minute purchases. But most importantly it is a brand that draws shoppers into our town from the surrounding villages.

And that’s the reasons Waitrose is good for Saffron Walden. It is an anchor store that brings shoppers to the town centre for other things as well. If they shop in the supermarket they get free parking and are able to then spend time in our great local independent stores and cafés. It helps the town centre economy as a whole.

John Lewis Group say that it will take until August to revamp their Saffron Walden Waitrose. In the interim a reduced store is operating and the car park is closed. But there is a free shuttlebus to and from the Swan Meadow car park, which is actually only a few minutes’ walk away anyway.

I’m sure many residents of the town will be looking forward to the new store. I am too. But not only because of the expanded range; mainly because it will bring more shoppers to enjoy the other shops in our town centre. The only thing that disappoints me is that they will be opening their own café. We have many wonderful cafés in Saffron Walden and I think the space would be better spent not competing with what we already have in the town. None the less, an expanded investment by the John Lewis Group in our town centre is a good thing.

Waitrose have published the details of the changes to their store on their website.