The Competition Commission’s decision to bar the top three grocers from buying all but a handful of Safeway stores has prompted concerns that major site acquisitions will be barred from now on.

None of the top three were expecting to be able to bid for the full portfolio, but the decision to ban them from picking up all bar 53 stores even once they are sold on is said to have “incensed” Asda and Sainsbury.

A senior retailer said: “They are still livid. They may have put a disclaimer out that they are not considering applying for a judicial review, but they are looking into what they can get out of it.”

A judicial review was not out of the question, he added, citing Interbrew’s challenge relating to its acquisition of Bass Brewers.

The big three are expected to embark on negotiations with the OFT shortly in a bid to limit the duration of any ban on future acquisitions of stores in the Safeway portfolio.

One analyst said: “What emerged amazed us. Food retailing is one of the most regulated sectors in the UK with the major retailers now having virtually no control of their own property portfolio.”

>>p32 Then there was one...