Schadenfreude is not an attractive character trait and I hope that I have avoided it despite my obvious interest in the difficulties faced by Tesco. However, this piece is not about gloating but an illustration of what seems to me to be an unnecessary fanning of the flames.
I don’t know Dave Lewis nor whether he knows about this matter or not, but my suspicion and hope is that he does not.
In 2007, with others, I fought a campaign over the Tesco Extra store in Portwood, Stockport. At the time and prior to the financial crisis Tesco was at the height of its market dominance and acted accordingly.
It applied to Stockport Council for an Extra store and, between receiving approval and completing the store, clearly decided it had been too modest in their ambition and that the store was insufficient in size. Rather than go to the trouble of a new planning application, it decided to build a store 15% larger than that for which permission had been granted.
“There is still work to do in realising the scale of change now facing Tesco”
As the store was nearing completion the council and others became aware of the discrepancy and a debate ensued. Campaigners like myself insisted that the store should be pulled down and rebuilt to the original specification while Tesco contended that the breach was a minor technicality for which they apologised.
As part of its argument, it unsurprisingly majored on the benefits to the town of the ”section 106” agreements it had entered into to get the permission in the first place.
Ultimately an uneasy compromise was reached, under which the oversize part of the store was to be put permanently out of use.
Fast-forward to October 2014 when an application came before Stockport planners with a proposition to put this area back into use. The proposal is to use the area for a café, toilets and a community room with the disingenuous justification that this would not be selling space, despite freeing up other areas which would be just that. In the meantime, individual householders in Stockport who have committed similar breaches in developments of domestic properties have faced court action to enforce demolition of their properties.
Given the scale of Tesco’s difficulties, not least the progression from civil misdeeds to potential criminal breaches, one might have expected Mr Lewis would want evidence of past arrogance to be decisively buried for the time being. This message may not have reached the sharp end of the business.
It seems there is still work to do in realising the scale of the change that now faces Tesco, and that the best solution when in a hole is to stop digging.
Steve Parfett is chairman of AG Parfett & Sons