Supermarkets could be far less inclined to build up so-called landbanks if proposed radical changes to England's planning regime go ahead.

Charges will be heaped upon any empty site or undeveloped brownfield land if the government follows the recommendations of the Barker Report, published this week. The report also wants the existing business rate relief for empty sites to be reformed.

Between them, the big four are estimated to own more than 300 unused and undeveloped sites - with Tesco boasting the biggest single holding.

Critics say powerful retailers - particularly Tesco - leave these sites undeveloped to prevent rivals building stores near their own - a claim refuted by the UK's biggest retailer.

Tesco said the undeveloped sites it held resulted from a lack of planning approval. "We don't bank land, it's not a good use of money," said a spokesman.

"All the land we have is for development. If they are not going to speed up the planning process, it's not right to tax people."

Report author and economist Kate Barker agreed with Tesco that the speed of the planning process was an issue - and also said it was expensive and bureaucratic.

Her report recommends ways to streamline the planning process and improve speed, transparency and ­efficiency.

One proposal is to remove the 'needs test' - the controversial and costly requirement for developers to demonstrate a need for a scheme, such as a supermarket, in an area.

The report says each test can cost upwards of £50,000, adding: "Investors who are risking their capital and whose business it is to assess likely customer demand are better placed than local authorities to determine the nature and scale of demand."

Asda said the recommendations could help clear the path for future store development.

"We have argued against the needs-based test, it was in our submission to the Competition Commission," said a spokesman.

"We are still working our way through the report but at first glance it is very encouraging."

But the Association of Convenience Stores said if the government adopted the report's recommendations this would simply further the "ceaseless development" of the big four.