Everyone, including planning authorities, is powerless to stop supermarkets expanding where, when and how they like and small shops will disappear as a result, say independent retailers.
That's the message from The Grocer's latest exclusive survey of independents. It makes for gloomy reading, with nearly all shop owners questioned feeling that campaigning against supermarket planning applications is a complete waste of time. Only 8% feel it is worth doing but not to actually block an application, just to delay the inevitable.
"Everyone should always campaign against a supermarket's expansion plans, just to cause the most irritation by delaying the project," says one shop owner. "I know they have lots of money to cover appeals and things but let's at least make them spend it," he says.
"They show the same amount of power in planning applications as they do when buying goods for their stores," says one retailer. "They get the best deals there, too."
Unsurprisingly, all of those questioned say a large supermarket opening near them would damage their business. Some already have large supermarkets within a few miles of them but fear that if one opens closer to them, then they could go bust.
They are critical of supermarkets that build stores larger than specified in the original planning applications and subsequently re-apply for permission for size increases. "If you did this on a house extension the council would soon be round telling you to knock it down," says one retailer.
"They are willingly breaking the law and sticking two fingers up to the authorities," says another.
Independents in Stockport certainly feel this way and have been part of the 18-month campaign headed by wholesaler AG Parfett against Tesco ('Tesco wins latest Stockport round', The Grocer, 30 September, p7).
Parfetts welcomed the local council's decision in September to vote against a retrospective application for an additional 18,000 sq ft of sales space at a Tesco Extra in Stockport.
However, the wholesaler's hopes were dashed when, less than two weeks later, the Stockport Highways & Planning Committee reversed the earlier council vote.
The case has now been referred to secretary of state Ruth Kelly, on the grounds that Tesco's application contradicts Stockport's development policies.
Shop owners want the government to legislate to give independents more power to oppose such behaviour.