Suffolk: Retail expert slams Tesco ‘linked trips’ theory

How the Tesco store might look in Hadleigh

How the Tesco store might look in Hadleigh - Credit: Archant

A leading retail academic has slammed a report by Tesco which suggests edge-of-town supermarkets help to boost the trade of independent shops.

Professor Alan Hallsworth, who has advised the Government on retail matters, says Tesco’s document citing examples of small town supermarkets that have become anchors for trade, preventing “leakage” of footfall to other high streets, is “out of date, selective and biased”.

The consumer giant, which plans to open a string of stores in Suffolk – including one in Hadleigh and a Tesco Express in Aldeburgh – claims in the report that edge-of-town superstores with free three-hour parking attract people in to a town and encourage ‘linked’ shopping trips.

But Prof Hallsworth, who has contributed to numerous parliamentary reports on the subject, said the study did not take into account the current recession, and only used examples where the introduction of a supermarket had been “less than disastrous”. He accused major retailers of producing numerous reports in a bid to “intimidate any opposition with limited resources.”

He said: “Regrettably because the (planning) system is so pro-development and favours short-term gain over long term losses, few are interested in recording the long-term downside of new retail development. Instead, an anchor figure of 300 new jobs is usually conjured out of the air at most inquiries and no-one later checks on the reality.

“I categorically do not accept that any superstore of any size can be dumped into a small market town and no damage will ensue.”

Prof Hallsworth believes retail guidance published in 2008 which removed the “needs test” from Government planning policy is partly to blame for the current flood of supermarket developments. He added: “It is the removal of a sensible control that is leading the country to be carpeted with unnecessary new stores at a time when incomes and the economy are both stagnant.

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“The big retailers are continuing to build because they can, but with no growth their income becomes someone else’s loss.”

Tesco’s corporate affairs manager Simon Petar defended the company’s report, which he said provided a number of examples of different stores in various market towns including Diss, Beccles and Sudbury.

He added: “All of the evidence in the paper was taken from independent retail studies commissioned by local authorities. What is clear from these numerous independent studies is that supermarkets can and do contribute positively to the health of town centres.”

However, since the arrival of a new Morrisons supermarket in Hadleigh, town centre shops including the East of England Co-op – which has managed to co-exist with independent businesses in the town for more than a century – have seen a significant drop in footfall.

Co-op spokeswoman Amanda Long said they were working with other businesses on initiatives to help reinvigorate the high street and reduce the impact of the new superstore.

She said: “Our commitment to the local economy extends beyond the high street, working closely with local suppliers and always ensuring that our products complement that of our fellow traders without taking away their trade.

“We will continue to meet with other local traders to share all ideas and to see how we can help to save this much loved high street.”

A Morrisons spokesman said the company strived to create a positive impact in towns where it builds supermarkets. He said: “Where we are most effective is when we are at the heart of the community and understand the issues that matter most to our customers and colleagues.

“We want to ensure that any community investment is reflective of this, by supporting the causes that matter to each neighbourhood – for example by partnering with schools, charities and community groups, helping them to raise funds through our stores.”

The Hadleigh Tesco planning application will not be heard before July 24 at the earliest.

A Babergh spokesman said: “The council is aware of the comments made by Professor Hallsworth in his report, which are being given due consideration, and a detailed report and presentation will be made to the planning committee in due course.”