The grocery giant already owns vast swathes of the country. Now Tesco is under fire
for driving a bulldozer through the planning system. From Bury St Edmunds to Liverpool, it is angering councillors, local residents and its rivals.
Only this week, furious officials from picturesque Bury decided to make a stand against Tesco and reject its appeal over a superstore extension it had already erected without permission.
Earlier this month, the Competition Commission ordered Britain's biggest retailer to halt a controversial development in Slough
. Tesco had bought a store from the Co-op, tried and failed to get permission for a megastore, then demolished it in order to protect its own position. One top property agent says: 'Tesco is the most aggressive organisation in Britain when it comes to the use of space and planning.'
The supermarket chain's rivals, which are jealous of its rapid expansion, accuse it of misleading councils to get permission for new supermarkets and paying over the odds to secure sites. In March the Co-operative Group objected to an application for a new Tesco in Yiewsley, West London, which was later rejected. The Co-op says Tesco's claims that the store would not hurt local shops could not be backed up. Co- op property director David Pringle said: 'There were serious flaws in Tesco's application, in terms of justifying the retail need and the way the impact on local stores had been calculated.'
A property executive at a rival chain says Tesco is using its muscle to push back the boundaries of planning laws. It now accounts for £1 in every £7 spent at retailers. The supermarket chain already controls 32pc of the grocery market and Sainsbury reckons Tesco owns 55% of the land that could be turned into stores. As well as being accused of sitting on a landbank to stymie its rivals, Tesco's aggressive tactics with local councils are seen by some as bullying.
However, sympathisers point out that because of its sheer size, Tesco is bound to have more run-ins over planning than its rivals. As the Tesco juggernaut hurtles on, its power over the local communities grows ever greater. It doesn't just build supermarkets, it considers altering the face of entire towns to suit its own needs.
In Kirkby, near Liverpool, Tesco plans to build a new football stadium for Everton FC, the team Liverpudlian boss Sir Terry Leahy supports. The Kirkby Residents Action Group claims 74% of residents do not want Everton FC in their area, fearing an escalation in crime, fighting and traffic. Tesco argues it is merely 'regenerating' as encouraged by the government. Property developers are required to 'give something back' to local communities in return for permission to build. Tesco is funding the stadium so it can erect a superstore next door. But Kirkby wants neither.
On Tesco's behalf, property developers Goodmans are seeking planning permission for an 850,000 square foot distribution centre on the outskirts of the tiny Hampshire town of Andover. It will be bigger than Heathrow's Terminal 5. Tesco says discussions over the site are at an early stage. But locals fear it could mean 6,000 massive HGVs zooming around Andover, which has just 35,000 residents and no motorway. More than 95% of residents are against it, according to a poll conducted by local Conservative MP Sir George Young. Pete Jopling, vice chairman of local Clatford Borough Council, says: 'Andover needs jobs but we want a business park to attract a mix of people.' Instead, Jopling claims, the Tesco site could lead to a massive influx of low-paid pickers, packers and lorry drivers. Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy is trying to win public support by talking up the grocer's green credentials and trying to highlight its focus on locally produced food.
He has taken control of gardening chain Dobbies, apparently to encourage us to buy solar panels and wind turbines. But it will need a lot more than a few eco-friendly measures to win over the locals.