Is it time for us to learn to love supermarkets?
They would certainly like us to. Both Tesco and Asda are planning new 'green' stores, with the use of timber construction simply one of the elements in this fresh approach. Tesco has chosen its site cannily: Wick, in the north of Scotland, is a town that has suffered with the fall in income from oil and -shing. The creation of a new shopping centre, which will include Homebase and Argos as well as Tesco, is therefore seen more as an opportunity than as a threat.
At the same time, the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation is in discussions with Tesco as part of its drive to regenerate town centres to the east of London.
Eager to continue serving existing residents as well as new arrivals, the corporation is aware that centres such as Canning Town must not be swamped by cappuccino culture but should continue to offer more down-to-earth options.
It believes that an approach that works in the Far East, bringing local traders into the embrace of a supermarket, may be appropriate over here.
Contrast this optimism with, for instance, the hostility of Janet Street-Porter, who is quoted on page 20. It will take a lot to dispel suspicion of our supermarkets, on several grounds.
Environmental performance is one. Finnforest, supplier of the timber elements to the new 'green' stores, is keen to have BRE monitor their energy performance, but even an examination of overall embodied energy, carbon consumption, etc. would have limited value. A study that compared food miles, storage cost, etc. with other methods of shopping would be more instructive but also far more complex.
Then there is the issue of design which, with the exception of a few agship stores, is still dreary, and, of course, the perceived threat to town centres and small traders. Supermarkets are to be applauded if they wish to become better neighbours, but we will take some convincing.