Opinion | The opening of a new JD Wetherspoons on Gloucester Road will test Bristol’s loyalty to independent businesses

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Nina Micciche, First Year, Liberal Arts

After a planning process that took seven years, Bristol City Council have now approved a plan to build a Wetherspoons on Gloucester Road next year.

Celebrated for its independent shops, could this new addition to the road bring about the downfall of these much-loved establishments?

There is a certain fond familiarity to a Spoons; you know what you are going to get, and people stick to what they know! You become accustomed to the blue, floral crockery and the difficulties of drunkenly navigating three flights of stairs to the toilets.

Gloucester Road: VisitBristol

It offers brilliant value-for-money and is an institution for many (namely us as struggling students).

Be that as it may, as regards public opinion of the chain, there is often an Orwellian ‘doublethink’ whereby it is loved and hated simultaneously.

Should Bristol Council be seen to condone such an institution?

Last year, the company’s founder Tim Martin refused to pay his 40,000 staff members until the government upheld their promise of subsidising 80 per cent of wages with the furlough scheme; then went as far as recommending his staff work at Tesco. The new Gloucester Road premises will create 50 new jobs for the area, but you might be forgiven for being apprehensive when submitting your CV.

Should Bristol Council be seen to condone such an institution?

In the face of acute staffing shortages in the hospitality industry, the company’s treatment of their workers along with their stance during the Brexit campaigns seems counterintuitive. Martin’s position towards his staff during lockdown fuelled the 'Neverspoons' boycott campaign which people of all economic backgrounds have adhered to. It is apparent that Bristol Council have disregarded this sentiment.

Their chairman’s controversies aside, the location of this new Wetherspoons is where more trouble lies.

Gloucester Road is renowned for the independent nature of its shops. This distinctive atmosphere is what locals are ardent in protecting.

There were over 200 objections to the plans, which illustrate the turbulent response from residents and business owners alike. These anti-corporation beliefs are the same that drove the riots on Cheltenham Road when Tesco Express opened around a decade ago: as much an outcry to preserve local culture as it was an attempt to preserve independent businesses from the effects of globalism.

Running out of business is a very real possibility for nearby pubs

The Development Control Committee approved Wetherspoon’s plans, voting 8-0 in favour with one abstention. Green Party Councillor for Clifton Down, Tom Hathway was on the committee and has noticed as a newly elected Councillor ‘How rigged the planning system is in favour of development.’ He said that he ‘joined the other Councillors in reluctantly voting it through.’

Running out of business is a very real possibility for nearby pubs, bars, cafés and coffee shops. Just a five-minute walk up the road from the site of the new Wetherspoons is The Drapers Arms, a micropub selling well-priced ale and served by well-paid, friendly staff. Garvan Hickey, the pub’s owner and a local resident, remains positive, stating ‘I welcome competition’ and has faith that once the community visits the new Wetherspoons ‘Many customers will appreciate the alternatives on offer locally.’ Hathway shares this hope, believing that ‘When restrictions lift there will be a bit of a renaissance of the pub.’

Once the Gloucester Road Wetherspoons opens its doors, it is unfortunate but inevitable that many of us will be enticed, pondering its ethical position over a cheap pint and blue, floral plates.

Featured image: Greg Wilson


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