Suffolk/Essex: Tesco study suggests supermarkets boost independent trade

A report by Tesco suggests supermarkets boost town centre trade.
Photo credit: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

A report by Tesco suggests supermarkets boost town centre trade. Photo credit: Rui Vieira/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Local food campaigners last night dismissed a controversial report by Tesco that suggests edge-of-town supermarkets act as a magnet for shoppers and boost independent retailers.

The consumer giant, which plans to open a string of new stores in Suffolk and Essex, claims that certain outlets – and not just its own – have become “anchors” for trade and have helped prevent “leakage” of footfall to other high streets.

But last night local food campaigner Lady Caroline Cranbrook told the EADT the idea in the report of people linking trips to supermarkets with town-centre shopping sprees did “not hold water”. Meanwhile campaigners in Essex said it was “impossible” for a supermarket selling everything under one roof to be of “benefit” to independent retailers.

The Tesco report is due to be sent to councillors today ahead of a meeting in June about proposals to build a store on the former Brett Works site in Hadleigh. The company also has plans for stores in Manningtree and Ipswich, while an Express outlet is planned for Aldeburgh and a similar premises has opened in Southwold.

Examples of towns with two or three supermarkets are cited, including Diss, Beccles and Sudbury. According to a Tesco spokesman, the idea is that edge-of-town superstores with free three-hour parking attract people in to a town and encourage them to do linked shopping trips.

In Sudbury, where there are Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose supermarkets, the report says around 40% of main food shopping trips are combined with a visit to another local shop or service. The spokesman said: “We believe our proposed store in Hadleigh will bring shoppers back in to the town centre and in the process give local traders and the local economy a much-needed lift. It will complement, not compete with, the town centre.”

But Lady Cranbrook, who fought plans for a Tesco on the edge of Saxmundham and has carried out extensive research in to how the local food network is affected by supermarkets, said: “The logic is that everyone knows supermarket shopping is a chore and having done it you are not in a mood to go and visit a little café or independent shop. It’s utter nonsense to suggest otherwise.

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“Also on a practical level, having filled your car with frozen and fresh food, you want to get it home as quickly as possible. Common sense says that building a supermarket (on the edge of a town) will force smaller retailers to close and it goes against all modern planning guidance.”

Lady Cranbrook, vice-president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said some of the information in Tesco’s report was valid, but added: “The fact remains that there is only so much money available to spend in an area, and it is inevitable that some of that will go into another supermarket if it opens and small retailers will suffer.”

The Stour Community First Group has been monitoring plans for a Tesco on the outskirts of Manningtree since 2007. The group’s chairman, Chris Bowden, said: “For every bit of research that says one thing, there’ll be another study that proves otherwise. If people come to a large supermarket and can buy everything they need, then what need is there for them to then walk into a town?

“It is counter intuitive to say that a store selling all of those goods under one roof is going to boost independent trade in a town. People do all of their grocery shopping in big superstores these days and the high streets are struggling – that’s a fact – and what has already happened in Hadleigh since Morrisons was built is proof.”

Today’s report comes as Hadleigh’s chamber of commerce is preparing to release figures backing its argument that a third supermarket would kill independent trade in the town. This is based on the effect a new Morrisons – which opened in January – has already had, with some traders experiencing a 30% drop in footfall from which they are yet to recover.

The Hadleigh plans are expected to be discussed by Babergh District Council’s planning committee in June. Tesco already has planning permission to build in Manningtree but is yet to start the project.