Tesco dominates Greater Manchester store landscape

Tesco Express in Chorlton
Image caption The Feathers pub, in Chorlton, is now a Tesco Express store

At least 27 successful applications for new supermarkets have been made by the so-called "big four" in Greater Manchester in the past two years.

The BBC contacted every UK planning authority to discover how many shops from Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury's and Tesco received permission.

The highest number of approvals were in Manchester with seven between November 2008 and November 2010.

Across the North West, at least 63 were approved, with a further 10 pending.

The figures were obtained by researchers examining the expansion of Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons across the UK.

Tesco appears to dominate the Greater Manchester supermarket landscape, with its stores accounting for 22 of the recent successful applications.

One of its most recent Tesco Express stores opened inside a derelict pub in Barlow Moor Road in the Manchester suburb of Chorlton.

Campaigners from the Keep Chorlton Interesting group, who had fought a long battle against another store less than one mile away, became aware it was opening when the signs went up.

It did not need planning approval because a change of use from a pub to a shop is considered "permitted development" under planning regulations.

An application submitted by a management company to add doors, windows and disabled access ramps was approved in February, but the Tesco name was not included.

Campaign spokesperson Debbie Ellen said: "The thing that bothers me is that it is possible for them to basically turn pubs all over the country into supermarkets without any proper process of consultation with the local community.

"I think the planning regulations need to be looked at in relation to this because they are basically exploiting a weakness in planning law."

About four miles away in Manchester city centre, concerns have also been raised about another Tesco store which has opened in a former nightclub.

The 1,300-capacity Jilly's Rock World was a mecca for rock fans looking for live music in the city centre throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

Planning approval was granted in September following an application made by a consultancy firm. Tesco was not named in the initial form.

Liberal Democrat councillor Marc Ramsbottom is opposed to the store because of what he sees as a proliferation of small supermarkets across the city centre.

But Mr Ramsbottom can only voice his concern at the licensing hearing because the councillor - who represents the city centre ward - was not aware of the planning decision.

"Whilst some of them are obviously clearly very good, they're well-used by residents, what they do is squeeze out a lot of the independents," he told the BBC.

"We don't have very many independent food stores [and] delis operating. We have had them in the past in Manchester but they've just gone out of business. They can't survive against the weight of some of these massive corporations.

"I'm not against per se having Tesco, Sainsbury's and the like in city centres. I think they are very useful, very valuable and contribute to the high street.

"But when they dominate to the extent that they do, it becomes monopolistic and it just squeezes out everyone else."

According to Ms Ellen, the success of local campaigns in slowing down supermarket applications means they are becoming even harder to oppose.

She said: "It doesn't matter how vigilant local groups are in relation to trying to oppose this kind of development, if the application isn't transparent in terms of who is putting in an application how are you ever going to stop this kind of thing?

"You can't because it's over before you even know about it... I think there is a definite pattern of Tesco - and other outlets - doing that."

In response, the company said: "Most of our new store applications are not for large supermarkets but for small, local convenience stores, the likes of which millions of customers have relied on to get food in the bad weather."

It added: "We have invested in the UK even during the worst recession in living memory, creating tens of thousands of jobs, many in the most deprived areas of the country."

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