Exclusive Clive Beddall New legislation forcing the big five supermarket operators to seek OFT approval if they want to open another store within 15 minutes drive of their existing properties could provoke legal challenges from the multiples. As this issue went to press, the controversial proposed change to the UK's planning regulations, affecting stores of more than 1,000 sq m, was expected to be among the major findings of the Competition Commission's 16 month probe into supermarket profitability. Although formal publication of the report by Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Stephen Byers was on Thursday said to be "imminent", there had earlier been protests from the multiples after extracts had been leaked to a Sunday newspaper in advance of the official publication. But while the minister's verdict was expected to see the chains exonerated from charges of monopolistic practices, the possible planning issue ­ similar to systems operated in certain North American states ­ brought predictions it would lead to "major protests" from the chains. Throughout the inquiry it's been widely predicted that local competition issues would emerge as one of the few contentious items to be highlighted by the CC a point which has brought a vigorous defence by the chains. The Grocer understands that one multiple, in its submission to the inquiry, presented research showing that 92% of people across Britain live within 15 minutes' travelling time of three competing fascias. As one industry spokesman put it on Thursday: "If Byers starts talking tough about competition, he should remember thatmost UK consumers already enjoy its benefits. So why is it necessary to tinker with the country's already long windedplanning regulations? Those issues already contribute greatly to our costs spiral." If the system were eventually implemented across the UK, it would presumably boost Asda/Wal-Mart's expansion aspirations in the south east. Meanwhile, another major issue set to be raised by the report is the formation of a formal OFT-backed code of trading practice for the chains and their suppliers. Although this has been widely pre-empted by the recent setting up of a code by six major multiples, facilitated by the IGD, the idea is set to be the subject of top level talks between industry organisations and agriculture minister Nick Brown in November. After the prime minister's farm crisis summit at Number 10 in March, the minister told The Grocer: "Although the Competition Commission is looking at retailer/supplier relationships and may eventually impose such a code, the industry must get ahead of the game. The various parts of the chain have huge vested interests in each other's success." Meanwhile, as the latest bout of media frenzy on the profitability probe hit the headlines, Tesco unveiled its latest price salvo a £55m price cut campaign in which it claimed some prices would be reduced by up to 20%. This provoked a war of words with the other majors. Sainsbury said it had no plans to follow the cuts but would stick to its well publicised price guarantee of 1,000 lines. Asda, characteristically, commented:"Tesco is merely following us. We'll cut 10,000 lines by year-end." - See Opinion, page 20. {{NEWS }}