Community council could seek permission itself for a new supermarket on Mull

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Community councillors on Mull say they will seek planning permission themselves for a new supermarket in Tobermory if the Co-op does not ‘step up to the mark’.

Unless the Co-op commits to building a bigger store at the top of town, the community council will look itself at getting planners’ approval to build one – then offer it to other supermarket chains.

The council has been in discussion with the Co-op about moving to a site at Baliscate. Despite that, the Co-op says it has no future plans for a second store.

Meanwhile empty shelves at the Tobermory Co-op and lack of essentials like bread, milk and very little fruit have been frustrating islanders who rely on the store for their supplies.

Mull councillor Mary-Jean Devon said she knew it was very busy at the end of the English half-term but when she called in it ‘looked like staff had stripped the shelves to paint the shop’ it was so bare.

The High Street Co-op is only classed as a convenience store, not a supermarket, and community councillors would like to see the town get a larger supermarket with a bigger selection of goods.

Community councillor Alasdair McCrone said supplies in the Co-op had been in trouble during the summer. ‘We’ve had a lot of people but there was definitely a shortage of supplies,’ he said describing a particular stretch of shortages lasting almost ten days as ‘catastrophic’.

‘No-one is blaming the local staff, but the Co-op as a service to this community has failed,’ he said.

The introduction of a new computer system by the Co-op had caused some supply problems, the meeting was told.

Councillor Devon said: ‘Argyll and Bute Council got the biggest shock when they found out the Co-op had no firm plans to move to the site at the top of town. The council had even prepared some of the ground.’

Community councillor Billy Clymont said they should ‘flush out’ the Co-op’s plans and try to find out what the Co-op’s commitment is going to be to the island.

‘If it’s nothing, I think we should apply for planning permission to have a supermarket on that site then see who wants it,’ he said.

Councillor Devon suggested a letter is sent to Fergus Murray saying if the Co-op is not going to ‘step up to the mark’ then the community council would look at seeking planning permission and ‘put it on the open market’.

A similar situation happened in Dunoon and six or seven of the major supermarkets showed interest, the meeting heard.

Shortages at the Co-op are also a serious matter for people making a 40 or 60-mile-round trip from the island’s remotest parts, only to find it does not have what they want.

The meeting heard there were no stock problems at other stores like the Spar on Iona and in Salen, the shop in Bunessan and the one in Dervaig.

A letter is also going to be sent from the community council to Morrisons at Fort William to see if it would be willing to continue its delivery route to Lochaline over to Mull.

However, on Tuesday Tobermory’s Co-op was one of five branches having plans for home delivery ruled upon by licensing chiefs. The others are in Port Ellen on Islay, on Tiree, Inveraray and Tarbert. The plans were due to be heard by the licensing board during its virtual meeting on Tuesday November 9.

No concerns have been raised by licensing standards officers or police, and environmental health officers are working on a Covid-19 assessment for each store with the applicants.

Caption: Tobermory’s Co-op in the High Street is only classed as a convenience store but for many it is relied on as a life-line service for essentials.