Manningtree to fight Tesco superstore plan
Campaigners nationally say the planning application for such a large food store in such a small community will be a further striking case of the negative impacts of supermarket power. The proposal comes at a critical time when the Government is finalising details of a new test set out in its planning White Paper that will replace the "need" test for retail developments which was supposed to protect the character of market towns. There have been widespread fears that Tesco's dominance of the market is creating 'ghost towns' because small High Street shops are being forced out of business. The Competition Commission is looking at the effect of the big retailers on local competition in its latest inquiry which was extended recently after emails were discovered from Asda and Tesco allegedly instructing suppliers to lower their prices. A survey of 50 senior directors of supermarket suppliers published last week found that three quarters do not believe their firms are protected by Office of Fair Trading rules. More than half said they feared making complaints against supermarkets because they might lose their contracts.
Manningtree, historically a port, lies between the far larger towns of Colchester and Ipswich on the River Stour and its railway station serves a wide rural hinterland and is the gateway to Constable Country. The town, which claims to be England's smallest by area, has a delicatessen, a farm shop, a whole food shop, two bakeries and a twice-weekly market with butcher, fishmonger and greengrocers and, currently, a small Tesco Express. Tesco is now proposing to build a 30,000 square foot store on the edge of the town, right next door to the farm shop, opposite a newsagent and adjacent to the existing Five Ways Co-Op supermarket, the only large food store in the town, which has lodged an application to expand. Residents point out that there are already 10 Tesco stores within 10 miles of Manningtree already and the roads to them are better than the narrow roads of the Dedham Vale. The proposed new store is not on the local plan. An estimated 200 people packed the scout hall in Lawford, the neighbouring village to express opposition to Tesco's proposals when they held a consultation last month. Jenny Hawley, chairman of Stour Community First, a group set up to oppose the planning application when it comes, said: "What Tesco is proposing is totally out of proportion with the need and character of a small, historic town. We are not prepared to sit back and watch Tesco take over Manningtree. Its shops and restaurants and the smallholders and farm shops of the surrounding area would be unable to cope with it. It would totally change the character of the area." Nicky Young, a working mother with children who moved into the town eight years ago, said: "I'm very passionate about Manningtree as I moved there from Colchester because of the community spirit, the shops and the school. We will lose all that if there is a big Tesco here. It would attract people from a wide radius and it would change the things that make Manningtree special, that sense that you can send your children out to the local shop and it is safe. If I had wanted a Tesco I'd have stayed in Colchester."
Lee Lay-Flurrie, the mayor, said: "There is no doubt I am against it in principle on a personal basis but as the council we do need to wait until we see the application."
Lady Cranbrook, who successfully campaigned to stop a superstore in her local town of Saxmundham in Suffolk and who is a member of the Tory Quality of Life policy group, said: "Small shops provide elderly people with their only contact with humanity. On a profound level, we have been destroying the means of having society banks and post offices, pubs. Tesco provides a big car park and the pattern of car parking changes. People don't want to walk to the high street. There is only so much retailing available. The large retailers mop up what there is. But small shops are the seedbed for new businesses."
Henry Oliver of the New Economics Foundation, which has campaigned against the excessive power of supermarkets, said that much would depend on the Government's planning guidance following the consultation on the White Paper, which has just closed. Kate Barker, the Treasury's planning adviser, recommended the removal of the "need test" for retailing but the present proposal is that an "impact test" should be retained.
A Tesco spokesman said: "It is not true to say that everyone is opposed to our proposed food store in Manningtree. We have just conducted an extensive public consultation over four days. 600 people came to the exhibition. A large number said they want something that better meets their food shopping needs. At the moment eight out of 10 people say they are driving to large food stores in nearby towns. That does not fit with protecting the town centre. This proposal is at present in draft. That is why there has been such an extensive public consultation. We will continue to work with the council to define the town's shopping needs."