Sunday 27 October 2013

On Designer Outlets and Food Banks

Labour leader of Brent Council, Muhammed Butt, has been tweeting enthusiastically about the opening of the London Design Outlet (LDO) in the Quintain development next to Wembley Stadium. Equally enthusiastic, if not ecstatic, has been the news editor of one of our local newspapers.

Now I don't want to rain on their parade but a visit yesterday left me with very mixed feelings. You will have seen in my review of the film Project Wild Thing that I share concerns about children's early induction into consumerism and children were very evident at the LDO. A campaign against advertising aimed at primary age children and younger has received support from the Green Party. LINK

As an eco-socialist I recognise that the modern variation of capitalism relies on creating desires and wants, rather than simply fulfilling needs. John  Naish in 'Enough-Breaking free from the word of more' (2208) writes that the evolutionary human tendency, which began in the stone age, to make things for aesthetic as well as practical reasons...
...has been craftily subverted: we are encouraged to believe that we can acquire chunks of mate-pulling mojo by waving  credit card as impressively branded mass-produced items. It's a crying shame that the mojo seems to wear off so quickly. But that's what keeps our wasteful system whirring around - there's always an improved, more impressive modern hand-axe substitute waiting to drop off the production line as soon as you've paid for yours. This also helps to explain our culture's current obsession with having everything fashionable and new, rather than items that are substantially constructed to last for donkey's years.
This can be seen especially with mobile phones and computers. Some firms now offer automatic updates to the latest model as part of the deal.

Naomi Klein's 'No Logo' made a terrific impact as it revealed the strategy behind brands, logos and designer labels. Aimed at creating demand in the youth market and promoting the label rather than the product the strategy  can be seen at work in the London Designer Outlet'.

When there are calls for economic growth this often refers to precisely this form of consumption. As the UK  produces very little itself the 'growth' is in selling imported items to each other. As a Green I am in favour of economic 'development' which involves restructuring the economy in fundamental ways, rather than just the growth of the service sector.

Producing more 'stuff' depletes the planet's resources and accelerates climate change through increased carbon emissions

But what relevance has the LDO for the large number of Brent residents who are having to choose between paying the rent or feeding their children,  where even a £5 overspend can be a major problem? What relevance for the increasing number of families having to use food banks?

What impact will all those designer goods dangled in front of their eyes have on children and teenagers wanting to keep up with their trendiest mates? How many parents will go to the money lenders that Brent Council is trying to discourage to answer their children's demands, getting into greater debt in the process?

We want to see investment in green jobs that would retrofit our housing to make it energy efficient, investment in public transport infrastructure that would reduce car use, development of green and alternative technologies to carbon-based ones, and the building of affordable social housing.

Brent Green Party put forward the idea of a green industrial zone in its response to the Wembley Plan. This would involve encouraging green industries in the area at  reduced rents and business rates, linked with apprenticeships and training opportunities at the College of North West London.  Real jobs and real skills would result rather than the zero hour contracts that are too often the norm in the retail industry.

What has happened to the affordable housing and social infrastructure (schools, health centres) that Quintain were supposed to build as part of the Wembley regeneration? 

Muhammed Butt will argue that local people wanted improved shopping, that big brands have confidence in the strategy, that the LDO will bring in customers from across the region and will encourage fans attending the Arena and Stadium to stay and spend in the area,  that the LDO provides new jobs, that it is all part of the transformation of Wembley.

Even on its own terms the strategy is a risk as it is by no means clear that shoppers will travel to Wembley rather than other big shopping centres, or that in a period of austerity enough people will buy the goods if they do come. On Saturday few bulging carrier bags were in evidence and most people were just looking out of curiosity.

Time will tell.

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