Exercise 5.6

Contested Images

Cathedrals to Capitalism and Consumer Choice.

Identify an example of a photographic image or images which you believe presents a conflicted representation of a landscape or seascape.
● Write 300 words with annotations.
Often when land has been purchased for development, an organisation or agency might promote new housing or retail with images of happy people shopping, or families relaxing in well-tended gardens. Such images are profoundly ideological in nature, often serving to conceal or gloss over social, political, environmental or cultural differences and/ or disputes.
● Create a series of roughly 6-8 images that in some way challenge what you see as the ‘dominant narrative’ of your chosen environment/ place

LP&E, p.186

[16Sep22, p.186] I have been pursuing the theme of plant abuse for most of the Part 5 exercises following on from Agnes Denes’ Wheatfield … , but I’ll have to depart from that scheme for this exercise.

The entire capitalist edifice can be questioned as the basis of this exercise. It (capitalism) is predicated on the the dual pursuits of profit and continual growth and it is, at last, showing signs of coming to an end, not so much on the profit side, as this remains probably the most efficient and least corrupt method † of resource allocation. The seeds of destruction lie more in capitalism’s relentless pursuit of growth which is increasingly coming to be questioned under the tides of public opinion change that has been caused by ecofears, the cost of living (arising from inflation, exacerbated by the fuel shortages arising from Putin’s Ukraine onslaught), and dissatisfaction with inequalities. Covid and Brexit are also in the mix, the former affecting global opinions, the latter restricted to the UK.

The tarnished glories of capitalism are sold to the general public as providing prosperity and choice: prosperity is waning with the C21 generations less well off than their parents ‡. Choice was always a hollow, unnecessary and unwanted offer — what consumers want, in most cases, is less choice and higher quality amongst the offerings that remain (and lower prices, of course). Favouring choice over quality and leaving fundamental decisions to profit-motivated markets has seriously damaged the UK economy, perhaps irrecoverably.

But enough of the broad strokes, an example is needed to depict this. In I&P Assignment 5, I examined local changes and images 12-13. Pound Place are particularly relevant here as the whole area is now a Sainsbury supermarket, the largest of Eltham’s several Cathedrals to Capitalism and Consumer Choice. I propose a series of images illustrating the pointless excess of that choice and the waste of resources devoted to this unwanted quest, particularly as regards the shipping of fresh produce.

The planning application for the Eltham Sainsbury’s site was prior to the digitisation of Greenwich Council records and so are not available online. The most detailed similar document to hand is a 57-page summary of consultation responses to a 2009 application to build a Sainsbury’s store in Bromsgrove (Bromsgrove District Council, 2010). fig. A4. This document makes clear the range and depth of topics that an application is expected to cover § and suggests that approval, subject to the payment of £507,850 towards four local landscaping and transport developments (pp.54-5). That is the bureaucratic side of the business but there would also be a charm offensive for local media, residents and potential customers, that last evidenced for the Eltham development in figs. A1-3.
Nevertheless, in 2015, Sainsbury’s abandoned the scheme, stating that “[s]ince the proposals were first announced, shopping patterns have changed considerably and following an internal review, the scheme is no longer viable for us” (Greenway, 2015). So, having spent a great deal on acquiring a site, preparing a case for permission that listed all the local benefits, but did not mention making a profit, and agreeing to spend £0.5M on ancillary projects, the development was cancelled — because the benefits to Sainsbury’s were no longer as attractive Δ.

An examination of the shelves inside Sainsbury’s, Eltham shows it to be a pavilion of consumer excess (and allows some plant abuse spotting):
Many of the vegetables are urgently shipped around the world so that the British at table do not have to confront local produce in season, Fine Green Beans from The Kenya, fig. B2;
Small packets of sliced potato with oil and multiple additives priced at a vast markup their actual cost, the rest covering processing, packaging, advertising and, of course, profits to the various participants are offered in the crisps section, fig. B3;
A greater variety of vegetable oils than anyone can use, need or want are on offer in an adjacent aisle, fig. B4.
It should be noted, however, that I do not feel the same antipathy towards the even longer shelves of beer varieties: I am biased, self-righteous and hypocritical.

† Capitalism is, of course, corrupt and unequal, but it is a form of constrained corruption with, in ordered democracies at least, some control exercised over companies’ excess by elected governments. There is no better example of wanton, unrestrained corruption than Putin’s Russia.

‡ The roots of declining prosperity are threefold:
1. Thatcher’s “selling off the family silver” (Oxford Academic, 2014);
2. Gordon Brown’s raid on company dividends and pension funds which brought to an eventual end final salary pensions (Hyde, 2010); and
3. The failure of repeated governments to build (and encourage to be built) sufficient suitable housing, particularly after Thatcher’s sell-off of Council houses.
The general view in Tory governments that markets should be left to run free underlies all three strands and the current woeful state of Capitalism UK.

§ The Bromsgrove Sainsbury’s document lists: Planning Policy considerations; Retail matters, including the compliance of the proposals with the Town Centre first principle, the issue of need and scale and the impact on the vitality and viability of Bromsgrove Town Centre; Design and heritage asset issues; Trees and Landscaping; Accessibility; Highways, including junction capacity issues and the impact of the proposed development upon traffic flows in the surrounding area; Car-parking issues; Noise; Lighting; Air quality; Residential amenity; Flooding and drainage issues; Ecology; Security issues; Other matters (Bromsgrove District Council, 2010, p.34).

Δ While it is readily accepted that turning a profit on a deal-by-deal basis is fundamental to the capitalist ethic and therefore Sainsbury’s, in those terms did the right thing, it is also the case that profit is the single controlling criterion in this and most business decisions and yet this is not stated or acknowledged in the planning application and associated publicity.

LPE Exercise 5.6 References

Alexander, J, Conroy, A, Hughes, A, & Lundy, G (2019) Landscape, Place and Environment [LPE]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Bromsgrove District Council (2010) Redevelopment of site to provide a new supermarket (Class A1) and retail units (Class A1-A3) with associated car parking access, highway, landscaping and other works – Land at Bromsgrove Retail Park, Birmingham Road, Bromsgrove, B61 0DD – Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd. [online]. bromsgrove.gov.uk. Available from https://moderngovwebpublic.bromsgrove.gov.uk/documents/s8513/090365-DMB%20-%20Redevelopment%20of%20site%20to%20provide%20a%20new%20supermarket%20Class%20A1%20and%20retail%20units%20Class%20.pdf [Accessed 16 September 2022].

Greenway, S. (2015) Plans for multi-million pound Bromsgrove supermarket have been scrapped [online]. worcesternews.co.uk. Available from https://www.worcesternews.co.uk/news/13335292.plans-for-multi-million-pound-bromsgrove-supermarket-have-been-scrapped/ [Accessed 16 September 2022].

Hyde, D. (2010) Has Labour really ransacked our pensions? [online]. thisismoney.co.uk. Available from https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/pensions/article-1692321/Has-Labour-really-ransacked-our-pensions.html [Accessed 16 September 2022].

Oxford Academic (2014) Misquotation: ‘Selling off the family silver’ [online]. oupacademic.tumblr.com. Available from https://oupacademic.tumblr.com/post/76558708335/misquotation-family-silver [Accessed 16 September 2022].

sainsburyarchive.org.uk (1988) A new Sainsbury’s comes to Eltham [online]. sainsburyarchive.org.uk. Available from https://sainsburyarchive.org.uk/catalogue/search/sabr22e1421-a-new-sainsburys-comes-to-eltham-store-opening-leaflet-1988 [Accessed 16 September 2022].