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Supermarkets and Healthy Placemaking

Earlier this month, Asda unveiled plans for a “transformational Mixed-Use Redevelopment of its ten-acre Park Royal site in North West London”, adding to a growing number of  redevelopment schemes on sites owned by supermarkets, and accelerating a trend which, according to Savills, is filling a gap caused by retailers requiring less space and seeking ways to maximise their development land value and the desperate need for housing across the country – particularly in London.



At Park Royal, Asda has partnered with property Developer Barratt London to redevelop the Brownfield site into a “new town centre” including 1500 new homes - a first for Asda in undertaking a major mixed-use project.


It joins high street stalwarts Marks & Spencer who are redeveloping a retail park in Kew with St George (Berkeley Group) into a 1200-home “village neighbourhood", Aldi and its residential development on the Old Kent Road in Southwark, and Tesco’s 1280-home development in Redbridge.. John Lewis is focusing its placemaking on the build-to-rent sector, starting in Ealing.


There are many others, according to Savills:


“We have narrowed our search to include only sites with capacity of more than 250 homes, and those that are on existing supermarket sites, and identified a potential pipeline of nearly 24,000 new homes.”


And this is just London.


The appeal to developers is significant. the Planning Director at St George told Savills:


“working with supermarkets to repurpose their land can be the perfect solution to meet the needs of both parties. St George want to deliver sustainable communities, and repurposing supermarkets allows them to retain existing employment opportunities and create new ones. Often the supermarket can act as a catalyst for additional commercial uses that complement one another (such as shops, restaurants, gyms and leisure facilities)”


Like most businesses, supermarkets are responding to shifts in demand, and housing and the regeneration of brownfield sites are very much in demand. Whatever investment decisions they make, retailers have one thing in abundance – data on their customers and their customers’ buying habits. Not just any old data, but rich, comprehensive longitudinal data on what we buy, when and where we buy it all mapped out on top of precise demographics.


So my question is, how can the pioneers of consumer data collection and analytics help to create healthy homes and places?



A quick online search serves up very little to inform this question. There’s lots of info on how local housing, demographic and transport data informs retail strategy in a local area, but not the other way round – ie how retail data can inform local housing and transport strategy.


Surely I’m not alone in wondering how to harness the knowledge about people and place that retailers continue to amass for the development of places that improve our health and wellbeing. Supermarkets have acknowledged the power of their data to address social challenges such as healthy eating, obesity, and food insecurity. But when supermarkets become placemakers, this data can play an impactful role in the design and operation of entire communities.


Artificial Intelligence adds another dimension to the level of impact this data can deliver in planning and operating places  -  think people who like avocadoes usually like sourdough – enabling continual updates on individual and collective behaviour that can inform decisions on healthy placemaking.


Imagine a health impact assessment for a regeneration scheme that uses local and national supermarket data to build a robust understanding of health equity, health risks and health opportunities in a local area. This could be used as a baseline for both consensus and innovation in the design and operation of healthy places.  


Could supermarket-led schemes lead the way?


The Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership asked this question in its 2022 report “Supermarkets and Community Wellbeing: Developing a Framework to Guide investment, implementation and impact of Community Actions”  arguing that “there is a strong rationale for looking at supermarkets as contributors to community assets”, presenting a framework for identifying potential pathways to wellbeing outcomes, guiding investments, and evidencing value in a complex system. I hope the supermarket placemakers and their development partners are looking at this.

Never before has “You are what you eat” been so relevant to our daily lives and our futures.


Next time you do a grocery shop, think about what you buy, when, where and how you buy it says about you, your health and your lifestyle. – and how this information could be used to make the place you live better. Then let M&S and Asda know #howyoueatishowyoulive




Clare Delmar

Listen to Locals

29 May 2024




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