Independent retailers believe that everyone, including the planning authorities, is powerless to stop supermarkets expanding where, when and how they like and that consequently small shops will disappear.

That's the message from The Grocer's latest exclusive survey of independent retailers. It makes for gloomy reading for the independent sector with nearly all shop owners questioned feeling that campaigning against supermarket planning applications was a complete waste of time.

Only 8% felt it was worth doing but not to actually block an application, just to delay the inevitable.

“Everyone should always campaign against a supermarkets' expansion plans, just to cause the most irritation by delaying the project,” said 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 said.

“They show the same amount of power in planning applications as they do when they are buying goods for their stores,” said one retailer. “They get the best deals there, too.”

Unsurprisingly, all of those questioned said a large supermarket opening near them would damage their business. Some did say that they already had large supermarkets within a few miles of them but if they opened within yards of them, then they would definitely go bust.

When asked if supermarkets should build a store larger than the original planning application requested, then re-apply for permission for the size increase, the feedback was again damning against the multiples. “If you did this on a house extension the council would soon be round telling you to knock it down,” said one retailer. “They are willingly breaking the law and sticking two fingers up to the authorities,” said another.

Independents in Stockport have certainly felt 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 had 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 because Tesco's application contradicts Stockport's development policies.
Shop owners quizzed by The Grocer certainly felt the government should legislate to give independents more power to oppose such behaviour. “If local government can't even stop them at the moment then something must be done,” said one retailer.

“If councils made them physically tear down the extra space, wouldn't that curb their antics?” asked one disgruntled retailer. “You could sell tickets to go and see that,” he said.

The questions we asked:

1) Would a large supermarket opening near you damage your business?
Yes - 100%

2) Do supermarkets have too much power to secure planning permission?
Yes - 98%
No - 2%

3) Should supermarkets re-apply for permission for a store larger than originally agreed after building it?
No - 100%

4) Could independent retailers campaigning against this practice make a difference?
Maybe - 8%
No - 92%

5) Should the law give independents more power to oppose such a practice?
Yes - 100%