In next week’s review of the year, the story that stands out is the almost total exoneration of supermarkets and suppliers over profiteering. ‘Greedflation’, as it’s been dubbed, is one of the words of the year, closely behind the no1 choice, ‘AI’, and alongside the likes of ‘deinfluencing’ and ‘ultra-processed foods’. Yet with the possible exception of fuel, the Competition & Markets Authority has shown the market to be working, even if that wasn’t always obvious from media coverage.
Not so in the case of land use, however. The CMA continues to find supermarkets at fault over illegal use of land, 13 years after ‘landbanking’ legislation came in. The latest supermarkets to be rapped on the knuckles are Morrisons and M&S. Indeed, the 55 Morrisons examples identified by the CMA, it said, were the most yet, beating Tesco (23), Sainsbury’s (18), Asda (14), M&S (10) and Waitrose (7).
Not surprisingly, Aldi and Lidl complain about the dastardly restrictive deeds of the supermarkets, and their difficulty in finding suitable plots on which to build must be another factor in their decision no longer to predict store growth – along-side cost pressures, of course – but if they had spare land I’m sure they would not want to sell or lease to another discounter.
And the strange thing is, far from landbanking, the CMA is criticising supermarkets for selling off land. In the same town of Preston in which Morrisons built a beautiful new store in 2022, earlier this year it sold an old one to Tesco. Opening late last month, it is the first Tesco superstore in Preston. It goes to show how competitive the market is: supermarkets cannot afford to hold on to land just to stop rivals. And these breaches really aren’t landbanking as we know it.
These are deals in which restrictions were placed on the sale of excess land directly connected to an existing supermarket plot. Such practices have been deemed to be anti-competitive, but it’s not the same as buying land on the cheap and doing nothing with it to stop others. It seems like an understandable restriction to seek, in much the same way you might not choose to sell a business (or a football player) to an arch-rival.