Sunday, 26 August 2012

Tesco, monopolies and planning

One of the things that surprised me with the supermarketsurvey was the level of dislike expressed about Tesco; the words “monopoly” and “bullies” were used by many respondents.  I have had some involvement with Tesco in the past when I worked with an organisation called “The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transportation (UK)” (my previous career was as a logistician).  During that time I worked with Tesco in a number of forums.  There was no doubt that at the time they had a reputation as having the foremost logistics set up in the world (they probably still do), but I also respected and liked them because they were quite open in discussing what they did and why, which allowed the development of logistics as a whole in the country.  It was certainly true that a number of companies kept their policies and processes behind closed doors, so you can imagine why I grew to admire Tesco.

You can perhaps also understand why it came as a bit of  shock to me to read people’s views about Tesco and their application. Then you read about Tesco delivering lower profits and having lower market share and it makes you think that they have some consolidation and learning to do.

But these sorts of comment make it very difficult for the planning committee.  In general, monopoly or a preference for one company over another are not planning issues – planning debates have to be about the merits of sites and applications, not about individuals or companies.  However, there is one aspect of this that I think needs further consideration in the planning meeting next week.

It is certainly true that Tesco have a huge presence in the area around Whittlesey (Ramsey, March, Wisbech, Hampton, Stanground) so a Whittlesey store could only serve Whittlesey people and would not attract others in.  It is just possible that Sainsbury, which has  smaller presence) will attract others – in fact I would argue that with the added value of the country park it definitely would. If that were coupled with a condition for link advertising (meaning they would have to provide space in store to advertise the town centre) and a scheme to encourage town centre shopping we might do something to protect our town.  Here are two points her that come to mind:

1.       The survey I carried out showed that the town centre was the number one concern of residents, even though they supported a supermarket.
2.       The National Planning Policy Framework places great importance on the vitality of town centres.  As an example the first bullet of Para 23 talks of the need for local planning authorities to recognise “town centres as the heart of their communities and pursue policies to support their viability an vitality”

The flip side of this is that we need to ask where the Tesco option fits alongside this issue of viability and vitality of the town centre.  I suspect that Officers would say they have achieved this through the sequential test; I am going to write something about this tomorrow.

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