Emma Cowing: Convenience has a cost for community

Picture: Getty

Picture: Getty

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APPARENTLY, there is a wonderful new way to improve the value of your house. It doesn’t involve faffing around with MDF, or brewing endless pots of coffee to make your pad smell like a Starbucks, or purchasing a massively expensive new kitchen in a zanily bright colour sold to you by an over-enthusiastic salesperson at Ikea.

No, the answer to boosting your house value is simple. Live next door to Waitrose.

According to estate agents it can add around 25 per cent to the value of your home. In London it can be as much as 50 per cent.

“It is difficult to state with certainty that a Waitrose opening will boost prices,” quoth Sophie Chick, analyst for estate agent Savills, which carried out the research. “But it is clear that buyers should expect to pay significantly more for their home if they wish to have a store on their doorstep.”

While this will no doubt be music to the ears of residents in Stirling, where a Waitrose opened in January – the fifth in Scotland - I have a cautionary tale. Because, dear readers, I used to live near a Waitrose. So close that it took me less than a minute to get there. So close, in fact, that if I hung out the lounge window I could see its jaunty, sea-green logo glinting at me in the sunshine. And it was hell.

Oh it all started out so well, of course. That first trek down the shiny aisles, marvelling at the glossy fruit and veg where every orange, lemon and kumquat looks as if it has been individually buffed with a chamois. The ready meals that resemble something you’d order in a restaurant with a “good” bottle of wine. Those posh crisps made of vegetables (you know the ones: they taste like salty cardboard that’s been left out in the rain).

Indeed, I was hugely excited when the Waitrose next door to me opened, after years of identity crises during which the building had been a Somerfield, a Morrisons, a Co-op and even, shiver, a Safeway. Yes, I thought. Waitrose will be wonderful.

My bank manager felt differently. Particularly when a “quick nip to the shops for some milk” turned into an act of seduction. “Come try me,” whispered the sugo ai carciofi from the sauces aisle. “You know you want us,” purred the amaranth from the fresh grains section. More often than hot, I was powerless to resist.

As for the basics, many of them seemed to pile on the pennies in an “it all adds up, quite scarily actually” sort of a way. Meanwhile, I stopped patronising other local businesses, and know many who did the same, because Waitrose was just so handy, so well stocked, and so good at what it did. They should probably be admired for this. They are clearly running a very good business.

Inevitably though, the Waitrose impact wasn’t just on my purse. I know of at least one local business – a wonderful delicatessen with a solid and beloved reputation of several years standing – which was sold by its owner within a year of the opening because they could not compete. When I sold up myself, I saw the new owners’ eyes bulge with excitement at the prospect of living within a Heston Blumenthal Christmas pudding’s throw of such a fashionable food store. Just you wait, I thought. It’s not all sunshine and Nielsen-Massey rose water.

It’s been around 18 months since I moved house. I live in an area now that is undoubtedly less fashionable and stylish than the one I resided in before. There is no Waitrose round here, and there is unlikely to be one any time soon. Instead, there is a fishmonger, where plump, fresh trout eye you from the window. A butcher, where the steak pies are so famous the queue runs down the street on Hogmanay morning. There is a dairy, and a greengrocers, and a veg shop where everything is so locally sourced the garlic comes from the park up the road. It’s the sort of old school community high street that is becoming an increasingly endangered species in this country. It’s the sort of place Waitrose is killing off.

Of course, it’s not just the fault of Waitrose. Supermarkets, particularly the enormous ones on the edge of small towns, must take the blame for destroying the traditional High Street. And so must we, the shoppers. If we want glossy convenience, it’s easier than ever to find it. But the cost, both to our finances and our communities, is high.

Did having a Waitrose on my doorstep boost my house price? I have no idea. I’m just glad to be rid of my over-bearing, high maintenance neighbour.

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