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Petitions, Cards, Letters and Emails about Sainsbury’s: An Attempt at a Statistical Analysis PDF Print E-mail
Supermarket Debate
Written by Andrew Warmington   
Tuesday, 06 November 2012 16:16

Throughout the battle over the out-of-town superstore (OOTS) issue, there has been much argument over which side has majority support among the people of Ledbury. In the absence of definite statistical evidence either way, this has led to a lot of claims and counter-claims.
It is impossible to know for sure, since neither of the ways of finding out – an actual poll or a properly conducted survey of a statistically significant and randomly chosen inhabitants – has ever happened. The only documentary evidence we can use is the petitions, letters, emails and cards sent to Herefordshire Council at various times during the campaign.

On 22 October, therefore I went to Blueschool House in Hereford to have a look at these. This proved a very tricky – and long – exercise because of the sheer bulk of the evidence, its sometimes confusing nature and the lack of time to do a full statistical analysis, which would take even the most qualified person weeks.

I am not pretending to be an impartial observer. I am one of the most prominent anti-superstore campaigners and I think that any OOTS in Ledbury would be a disaster. However, I have done my utmost to be fair and accurate.

The evidence is of four main types:

  • A petition organised by Ledbury Opposes Out-of-Town Superstores (LOTS, which originally stood for Ledbury Opposes Tesco Superstore) against the proposal by Tesco to build a superstore on the site of Ledbury Engineering and to close down their existing town store
  • A petition organised by Ledbury Supports Sainsbury’s (LESS, which was originally called LATS (Ledbury Approves Tesco Superstore)) in favour of the proposal by Sainsbury’s to build a superstore on the site of Galebreaker
  • Letters and emails sent in to Herefordshire Council in favour of and against the Sainsbury’s proposal in the run up to the Planning meeting on 22 February
  • Response cards distributed by LOTS, LESS and Sainsbury’s in favour of and against the Sainsbury’s proposal in the run up to the Planning meeting on 22 February

I examined these, especially the first, in as much detail as possible and will lay out my findings below:

  1. LOTS Anti-Tesco petition
    This was gathered mainly by leaving sheets in various shops around Ledbury for people to sign, supplemented by a small amount of signature gathering in the street. It was done before Sainsbury’s proposal emerged and is therefore in opposition to the Tesco proposal.
    There had been various allegations from LESS supporters that the petition was not mainly signed by local people (‘from Melbourne to Miami’ being one statement). In particular a letter in the Ledbury Reporter in September claimed that fewer than 1,000 people from the whole of Herefordshire had signed it.
    LOTS has also stated that an unknown number of sheets disappeared from shops or in transit to Hereford. A number of near to 3,600 signatories was mentioned at one point, not including any lost from shops.
    The petition has, by the council’s count 3,257 revised down to 3,234. I counted 3,193, eliminating two as known duplicates and one as a child’s signature, leaving 3,190. This figure, 44 down from the original 3,234, is well within the standard margin of error.
    I went through the entire petition, noting where the person signing was from, if stated, which it almost always was. Because people often put just a street name, town, postcode or limited details, it was not in practice possible to distinguish between towns and their wider postcode district.
    It is also worth pointing out that counties and postcodes do not always match each other – most obviously WR 13 is a Worcester postcode but is mostly in Herefordshire. Moreover, Ledbury is in a corner of Herefordshire and much of its immediate area is actually in Gloucestershire (Newent, Dymock, etc.) or Worcestershire (Malvern and around). However, the broad figures are clear enough. The location of those who signed was:
    Ledbury/HR8 – 1,243 (39.0%)
    Colwall/WR13 – 290 (9.1%)
    Hereford/HR1 – 202 (6.3%)
    Other HR postcodes – 266 (8.3%)
    [Ed: Hereford city comprises parts of postcodes HR1 through HR4. These postcodes are radial out of Hereford, going as far as Bodenham, for example.]
    Malvern/WR 14 – 169 (5.3%)
    Other WR postcodes - 146 (4.6%)
    All GL postcodes- 293 (9.2%)
    Other UK- 523 (16.4%)
    Non-UK- 17 (0.5%)
    Blank/illegible/unsure- 41 (1.3%)
    Thus, of those who signed the petition, only 16.4% were from parts of the UK outside the Three Counties and hardly any from abroad. A full 71.8% were from the Three Counties, leaving a few whose origins are unclear. This is essentially a snapshot of those who come to Ledbury and go into its independent shops. Not surprisingly, the vast majority are local, supplemented by visitors from all over, though with the West Midlands and Wales supplying a large proportion of these.
    It has been argued that this petition should not have been allowed in evidence against Sainsbury’s because it is anti-Tesco and not everyone who was anti-Tesco was necessarily anti-Sainsbury’s. This is really a matter of opinion.
    However, the wording is essentially about the likely damage to the High Street from a store of the proposed size and location. Since Sainsbury’s proposal was for a slightly larger store right across the street, Planning presumably took the view that most people who think that a Tesco OOTS would have a devastating impact on the High Street would think the same about a Sainsbury OOTS and that therefore this petition could be used in evidence in the Sainsbury’s proposal.
    I note in passing that one person who signed the anti-Tesco petition added ‘Yes to Sainsbury’s’ (which was not on offer at the time), while among the letters in a separate file is one from a doctor in Yarkhill who said he had changed his mind and was now in favour of a Sainsbury’s after seeing the happy petition gatherers with their orange balloons about town. I did wonder if he was being facetious, but had to assume that he was not…!

  2. LESS Pro-Sainsbury’s Petition
    This petition was gathered by a mixture of door-to-door and street collection, as is immediately obvious from the fact that large amounts of it consist of names from the same street and others are more mixed up. There was also some targeted soliciting of names at specific places, such as among parents collecting children outside Ledbury Primary School or in work places. As such, it is rather different in nature to the anti-Tesco petition.
    By the Council’s count, which I did not have time to check, there were 2,517 names on it. I also found a sheet with 10 more that had been mislaid in another box, bringing the total to 2,527. It was clear straight away that the vast majority of names are from Ledbury/HR8.
    As I did not have time to do a full count to determine where the signatories came from, I sampled the petition, i.e. picked a random place and started counting every fifth signature until I had 100 and then did the same again at another point later in the petition. This meant that I counted 200, or about one in every 12. In statistical terms, this means that the results are likely to be accurate to within 2-3% of the true total. The count was as follows:
    Ledbury/HR8 – 164 (82%)
    Other 3 Counties - 30 (15%)
    Other UK- 3 (1.5%)
    Not stated/illegible- 3 (1.5%)
    I have not broken down the ‘Other 3 Counties’ any further because the numbers are too small to be meaningful. There were a few oddities, e.g. two people signing themselves ‘c/o Davant’ and one being ‘Pontypridd & Ledbury’. I have assigned these to Ledbury on the balance of probabilities. Either way, getting this number of people to sign it in a small town was no mean feat.
    Collating the signatures to both petitions by road to get a picture of where pro and anti supporters come from would have taken months. However, I note in passing that despite the suggestion that those who support an OOTS are mainly working class families who have always lived in Ledbury and those who oppose it are mainly well-off incomers, that this is not at all obvious from the signatures. In the three completely middle class roads in the area of the modern estate where I live, there were slightly more pro than anti signatures.

  3. Letters & Emails to Council
    As part of the public consultation process, members of the public were invited to write in to Herefordshire Council by letter and email to spell out their reasons for supporting or objecting to the Sainsbury’s proposal.
    In total, there were 258 letters and emails received before the deadline of 3 February 2012 in favour of the proposal, plus 35 received after, and 311 received before against it, plus 25 received after. As far as I could see, every single one came from a Ledbury or HR8 address.
    In statistical terms and as guides to the majority view, however, these are virtually worthless. Many people both wrote and emailed, while a few sent the same letter more than once. I myself was among the duplicates, since I sent the same letter to Planning and to every County Councillor, one of whom forwarded it to Planning.
    Moreover, it is obviously highly likely that many of those motivated enough to write individually will also have signed a petition and/or sent a response card in. I have therefore not used the letters and emails as part of the statistical analysis.

  4. Response Cards to Council
    As stated above, both LOTS and LESS organised a campaign of sending in cards in favour of or against the Sainsbury’s proposal. These gave a standard list of arguments in favour or against, with space to add in any further thoughts. In a few cases, supporters used the anti card to support the proposal and opponents used the pro card to object to it but it appears that the Council successfully spotted this every time.
    These cards had to be signed and, in the vast majority of cases, the sender gave an address, which makes it possible to assess where they were from. It is, of course, possible that some people sent in multiple cards but it is not likely that this skewed the result because (a) it was necessary to put a stamp on the card, thus making systematic fraud a costly business, and (b) where there was duplication among the cards collated and posted by LESS, this was spotted.
    This part of the campaign is slightly confused by the fact that Sainsbury’s also organised a separate card filling campaign. These were collated by LESS and sent in after the deadline had passed. The potential for duplication of names between the LESS card and the Sainsbury’s card, because many of the same people would have filled them both in, is obvious, but I simply did not have the time to check this.
    In addition, 476 of Sainsbury’s own cards were filled in multiple times by a few people – some did this more than 20 times, putting the same name, address and reason for support every time. This was sufficiently obvious to the Council that they bundled them together marked ‘Duplicates’. Whether this was the result of an organised attempt to deceive or just over-enthusiasm by some LESS supporters is impossible to say.
    The total number of cards was as follows:
    In favour: 861 standard LESS cards received before the deadline, 158 standard LESS cards received after the deadline and 359 of Sainsbury’s own cards, all received after the deadline (not including the ‘Duplicates’ bundle), = 1,378
    Opposed: 2,139 standard LOTS cards received before the deadline, 119 standard LESS cards received after the deadline, = 2,258
    Lacking time to analyse them in detail, I also did samples of 100 among the standard LOTS and LESS cards. This showed the origins of the signatories to be as follows. There were none in either group from outside the Three Counties, and an address was always given:
    Ledbury/HR8 - Pro 86, Anti 78
    Other HR postcodes - Pro 4, Anti 4
    WR postcodes - Pro 6, Anti 13
    GL postcodes - Pro 4, Anti 5
    Clearly both sides drew most of their support from Ledbury/HR8, the pro-Sainsbury side somewhat more so. Most of the WR postcodes on the anti side were from WR13, which tends to back up the petition evidence that there is strong anti-superstore feeling in Colwall.

Conclusions
A few points of caution need to be made before reaching any conclusions:

  • It is highly probable that many people both signed a petition and sent in a card, letter and/or email. There is bound to be some level of duplication on both sides. People sending in multiple cards on either side cannot be entirely discounted, though the Council did spot it in the most obvious instance.
  • Being anti-Tesco and being anti-Sainsbury’s are not necessarily the same thing. It is possible that some of those who signed the anti-Tesco petition were in favour of or at least not against, or not so strongly against Sainsbury’s. Or indeed, vice-versa.
  • The petitions were gathered in very different ways. LOTS gathered its petition passively, by leaving it in shops. Therefore it would not have reached large numbers of people who did notice it because they did not go in the right shops, were too busy or otherwise not inclined to sign a petition unless specifically asked to do so. LESS gathered its petition actively; they went door-to-door and specifically targeted Ledbury residents. For these reasons, it is inherently probable that LESS reached a higher proportion of its supporters in town than LOTS did.
  • It is certain that a large minority or possibly a majority of Ledbury/HR8 residents have never expressed a view either way throughout the whole campaign. Whether that is because they have no interest in the issue, have no strong opinion, are undecided or do have a view but do not wish to sign petitions or send cards is impossible to say.

Does all this offer any proof either way of what the majority view in Ledbury/HR8 was on the Sainsbury’s proposal? No, not conclusively, though both sides can take some points of comfort.
For LESS, it is certain that more Ledbury people signed the pro-Sainsbury’s petition than the anti-Tesco one. If we count all signatures from the Three Counties to the petitions, it is pretty much a dead heat. For LOTS, the cards give a clear majority against, by nearly two to one, even on the most generous reading for LESS. The cards are more directly comparable than the petitions for obvious reasons.

Based on all this, my personal view, based on many years of working with imprecise figures, is that the split among Ledbury/HR8 residents who have expressed a view at any point is about three to two against Sainsbury’s, less than it was against Tesco but still a solid majority.

It can and will be argued both ways and in any case planning decisions are not made on a majority vote, but this is a conclusion reached after a full and fair assessment of the evidence that we have and I have revised this down from two to one.

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 November 2012 15:48
 
Comments (8)
Service
8 Tuesday, 13 November 2012 20:37
Andrew Warmington
There is much to agree with here, Dave. I would only take issue on one point.

Although we don't know exactly how many people in Ledbury have ever expressed an opinion over this issue (short of counting all the names on the petitions and cards and correlating them against each other - and life's too short for that!), it is definitely well over 10%.

As per my post below, at least 4,000 people from Ledbury/HR8 did one or both things, possibly as many as 6,000. That's probably about half of the whole population of HR8, children included. OK, most weren't bashing each other online, but both LOTS and LESS drew substantial support from within the town. I've heard about this famous 'Ledbury apathy', but it wasn't much in evidence in the OOTS campaign.

There are a few stories going around about poor service in certain shops and I'd agree that any shopkeeper who has a bad attitude to customers isn't going to last very long because the cards are stacked against them already. If it's about opening hours, yes that is indeed where supermarkets will always tend to beat the independents. But then we do have two in Ledbury already, that are generally open to 10 p.m. or even later, so it's hard to see this as a massive issue.

As to why those who wanted this particularly Tesco and/or Sainsbury's application to go through, well I'm probably not the best placed to answer. My impression, though, is that most simply wanted there to be a better supermarket here than what we have already and didn't much mind where it was. I can sympathise with that, which is why I have long been calling on people to back a redeveloped Tesco, on its current site, where it is an organic part of one of Britain's finest High Streets.
But what about service...
7 Monday, 12 November 2012 22:54
Dave Goodman
Andrew, whilst I commend you on the work you have put in to this, I will ask the same question, I have asked on other forums, namely and despite the fervour in both camps, isnt the fact that approx 90% of Ledbury people were either apathetic or unaware of the plans. Arguing about the ratios or totals of the 10% really is something of limited benefit.

During the "debate" in my opinion a number of core arguments of the anti-campaign either didn't stack or in some cases were entirely contradictory, they also seem to be based in world in which internet shopping didn't seemingly exist.

However, have you considered why people would want a supermarket at all? Price of goods is for sure one factor, but its not a consistent one nor an entirely accurate one. There are a good many items that could be purchased in Ledbury town or nearby cheaper than a supermarket one day and more expensive the next.

I suspect, certainly for me the reasons (given that I could find no compelling opposing arguments) I would have supported Sainsburys are two-fold. Primarily its a question of availability/accessibility. The range of products available at any one time is greater. Add to this that I have a greater window of opportunity to use the Store as it simply is open more often and longer than most town shops it is also more convenient to purchase everything at one time. This excluding simple things like parking (and parking charges) and not having to shop in the rain.

Rightly or wrongly (and this is a debate in itself) in this age most adults in a household work, therefore it is no longer the case that one adult is the "homemaker" whilst another is the "breadwinner" (again please note I make and intend no comment as to what sex either role is/was/should be) and hence purely traditional shopping cycles are not practical to many dare I say most.

Of those of us lucky enough to have flexible working hours, we still find that we don't have the available time to shop from shop to shop.
Or that we require a certain item, later in the evening.

So I find it odd that the Anti campaign deny any element of Nimbyism, yet don't seem at all fired up to address the issues that would lead someone to support a supermarket application in the first place, least of all the available level and quality of service. Noone would ever say they would rather add to the profits of large corporations to the exclusion of local traders, therefore there must be significant reasons as to why they will do so.
No, I won't; no, we're not
6 Monday, 12 November 2012 16:14
Andrew Warmington
No, we are not on the same side, either as regards superstores or the Town Plan. For all the supposed neutrality on the former, you have been wholly pro-superstore from the moment Sainsbury's threw its cap into the ring, if not before.

One of the letters in the Council's file in favour was from you. It was longer than most but totally supportive of Sainsbury's application. The idea that you somehow played a part in getting Sainsbury's turned down is bizarre.

As regards the Town Plan, it is about an awful lot more than whether or not we ever have a superstore, which is why people from both sides of the LESS/LOTS divide are active on it. Only one person, to the best of my recall, has been publicly rubbishing the whole idea from the word go and that's you.
One of these you'll wake up and realise we're on the same side
5 Monday, 12 November 2012 10:16
Michael Lever
"Where you also go badly wrong is in the implied assumption that this petition played a significant role in the Sainsbury's application being turned down."

There is nothing in my comment that implies anything. Making fun of others or criticising others harshly is a form of bullying

Public opinion is only one issue in council planning votes and a minor one at that." If you're right then the public would do well to not waste its time over the Town Plan then!

"Any public committee man who tries to pack the moral cards in the interest of his own notions is guilty of corruption and impertinence." - George Bernard Shaw
Revised 50 shades
4 Sunday, 11 November 2012 13:49
Michael Lever
My edited/amended post is still dated the same as the original so just in case you don't read it then please do, thanks.
50 tonnes of words
3 Saturday, 10 November 2012 13:06
Andrew Warmington
Is it all water under the bridge? Debatable. A lot of feuds have started in this town due to the OOTS controversy. And, as we can probably all agree, it is not likely that Sainsbury's have gone for good. They may well be back within a year.

Why did I bother going to Hereford to count names on petitions and cards? I'm indeed quite happy to tell you why.

In the first instance, it was prompted by claims in a letter to the Ledbury Reporter on 21 September, apparently based on LESS supporters having inspected the petition at some point. This stated unequivocally that fewer than 1,000 people from the whole of Herefordshire signed the LOTS petition. I was sure that couldn't be right but couldn't prove it. Now I can.

This was also the reason for my initial focus on the LOTS petition. That was nothing to do with my own bias and everything to do with the fact that its numbers had been questioned. I had to use up one of my days of annual leave to do this exercise, this part of it took all morning and it wasn't, in all honesty, the most interesting morning of my life, though there was some satisfaction in finding more or less what I expected to find.

At that point, there wasn't time for a full analysis of the rest of the evidence, hence sampling rather than counting. However, this is likely to have produced a reasonably accurate result and I have given the LESS petition and the cards no less weight in the final reckoning.

I have also given my reason for not adding the letters and emails into the analysis; they would, if added in, tilt the count slightly further on the anti side, though it really makes very little real difference in raw numbers.

In a slightly wider context, I went because I also wanted to see if there was compelling evidence as to what the majority view is. Obviously I believe - and want to believe - that most of the people of Ledbury are against Sainsbury's but at times, my confidence in being in the majority has been shaken, most obviously when LESS got their petition going. LOTS do need to take on board the fact that a large number - still a minority, IMHO, but a large one - of local people would like there to be a better supermarket in town.

Why was there no second petition against Sainsbury's? I wasn't privy to the decision but I agreed with it. Basically it was because there was simply no appetite for doing it all again; instead, we decided to get the response cards printed up and ask supporters to fill them out and post them. LESS got wind of that and did the same in addition to their petition.

As for the fact of a petition that was originally anti-Tesco (because Tesco was the only OOTS on offer at the time) being used in the Sainsbury's campaign, it is indeed a matter of opinion. On the one hand, you can say it should not be admitted because it was not about Sainsbury's; on the other, you can point to the wording that people who signed it said they agreed with, which was about the damage that would be done to Ledbury by a store of that size and in that position.

Planning presumably took the view that the vast majority of the people who believed that would also believe it of an even larger store with a different name on it over the road. Some did not, as I have faithfully documented. If you think there are legal issues over that, go and discuss it with a solicitor. As for this 'moral fibre' schtick, I am not taking any lectures on that from you, Mr Lever.

This idea that LOTS claims to speak for the whole of Ledbury is risible too. It is a campaigning group putting forward one side of an argument. Quite obviously some people wanted an OOTS (or just any better supermarket than the ones we have) and that has never been denied. LESS stands for Ledbury Supports Sainsbury's by the way. Are we angry at them for implying that everyone in Ledbury supports Sainsbury's? Of course not.

Where you also go badly wrong is in the implied assumption that this petition played a significant role in the Sainsbury's application being turned down. Public opinion is only one issue in council planning votes and a minor one at that. Only the county councillors can say why they voted as they did, but seven of the 12 who voted against did say why. None mentioned any belief that there was a majority opinion against the proposal or cited this petition. The general view at the time was that the town was split evenly.

Actually, the two petitions put together aren't even very good evidence for the anti side. On the contrary, although the LOTS petition has more names on it, fewer are from Ledbury/HR8, as I have documented, than those on LESS petition.

This isn't surprising, since they were collected in different ways: LOTS by leaving it in shops, LESS by pounding the streets and targeting residents. LOTS made a mistake in not going door to door and this enabled LESS to create the impression - which they believe entirely sincerely - that the majority view is on their side.

The really strong evidence that the majority view is anti, among those who have expressed a view at all, comes from the response cards. They are both entirely about Sainsbury's, they were done at the same time and are directly comparable. Whether or not you allow those received late and Sainsbury's own cards, there is a very strong anti majority.

(It's definitely wrong, though, to assume that this is all just a battle of tiny minorities with an apathetic majority in the middle. Even if the overlap between petition signatories and card senders is total, which is statistically near to impossible, at least 4,000 people in Ledbury/HR8 have expressed a view one way or another. Probably it is far more than that, maybe even over 6,000. The total population of Ledbury is about 9,200.)

Most LESS supporters will probably disagree with my conclusions. They are entitled to. Nor should they stop wanting an OOTS even if they do accept that they are the minority, any more than I would have stopped if the evidence suggested we were.

This whole campaign was bruising and often nasty but that's how democracy works and it shows, if nothing else, that Ledbury is the kind of place that provokes passionate discussion. Hopefully some of that passion will now be used more productively in other ways, not least in putting together the Town Plan.
50 shades of Ledbury
2 Friday, 09 November 2012 18:15
Michael Lever
My referring to the local trader opinions was caused by LP's use of the link 'next' which I assumed (wrongly now that I've checked) led to a continuation of your article after the conclusion of the first section. In fact, 'next' leads to a completely different article. Therefore, I have edited/amended my comment as follows (you may care to edit/amend your response comment as well):

I congratulate Dr Warmington on an excellent piece of research; he has clearly given the matter a great deal of time and thought.

I'd like to understand why he has bothered, since everything that was said or not said in the run-up to Herefordshire Council's planning decision to refuse Sainsbury's application is now water under the bridge. Perhaps he would tell us.

As to whether it serves any useful purpose, recently, a number of letter-writers in Ledbury Reporter have been at each other's throats over who said what, how many people supported or not, so I guess he thought it would help to have on record an attempt at some sort of objective assessment. Even so, how objective the assessment may I think be rather undermined by the following:

Frankly I think it would've been fairer, in the interest of balance and objectivity, to have allocated more time to analysing (2) LESS Pro-petition, (3) letters and emails to the Council and (4) Response cards to Council, than the (1) LOTS anti-tesco petition, but you have freely admitted to bias so the fact of someone having done the exercise at all is something we should all be grateful for. Also, whether your conclusion would've been any different is questionable, but at least it would avoid the risk that (2), (3), (4) might feel less important than (1) LOTS. As for not using (3) at all, I don't agree it's safe to assume all contributors would have also expressed their views through other channels, arguably taking the time to contribute comments could be said to carry more value than merely signing a petition.

Where I think the exercise serves no useful purpose is that it continues to prolong the somewhat tenuous view that the LOTS anti-tesco petition could and should be used also as representative of anti-sainsbury's. LOTS invested considerable time, effort and money in opposing an application that in the event tesco withdrew, but really there was no excuse to not organise a new petition opposing the sainsbury's application. After all, LESS managed to organise a petition at short notice, so why not LOTS? The answer so we gather is that the LOTS echelons took it upon themselves to assume it would be okay to transfer the anti-tesco signatures to being anti-sainsbury's on the ground that the anti-tesco petition was not anti-tesco in itself but anti any out-of-town superstore. Whether the LOTS petition should or should not have been used in evidence, Dr Warmington suggests is a matter of opinion. It may also be a matter of law, misrepresenting the people. Equally, arguably more importantly, particularly in Ledbury where ‘my word is my bond’ and knowing a person’s moral fibre still counts, there is I suggest the ethical principle, that when one is asked to sign a petition in support of one thing, one does not reasonably expect the organisers of the petition to then use the signature to support a different thing. Unfortunately, the only logical conclusion is that despite all the fine words the bottom line, when there a matter of principle is at stake, is that LOTS cannot be trusted to do the right thing.


You say "In a slightly wider context, I also wanted to see if there was compelling evidence as to what the majority view is. Obviously I believe and want to believe that most of the people of Ledbury are against Sainsbury's but at times, my confidence in being in the majority has been shaken, most obviously when LESS got their petition going. LOTS do need to take on board the fact that a large number - still a minority, IMHO, but a large one - of local people would like there to be a better supermarket in town."

Ignoring the fact your conclusion has been based on incomparable evidence, I don't understand why your confidence should be shaken merely because you might not be in the majority. Backing the favourite only to find that it doesn't not the win the race is just one of those things.

In my opinion, the useful purpose that your approach to the exercise shows is as you say "it is certain that a large minority or possibly a majority of Ledbury/HR8 residents have never expressed a view either way throughout the whole campaign." So really you are only amongst the majority of those that are on record, a minority; and therefore arguably not necessarily representative of the whole.

Whether a minority of (unelected) people should have the right to speak and act on behalf of the silent majority is a different subject. In the context of a large out-of-town supermarket for Ledbury and whether it would have the dire consequences the doom-mongers predict, I suspect the silent majority are indifferent, but if there were one then they’d shop there, rather have to travel further afield as now.
Just to clarify one point
1 Wednesday, 07 November 2012 13:40
Andrew Warmington
[Deleted because admin have tidied this detail up]