Tesco profits 'a threat to shops'

CAMPAIGNERS in Suffolk and Essex last night warned the continued dominance of supermarket giant Tesco is threatening the future of local market towns.

Lizzie Parry

CAMPAIGNERS in Suffolk and Essex last night warned the continued dominance of supermarket giant Tesco is threatening the future of local market towns.

The retailer yesterday announced a 10% rise in their profits in the last six months - despite the credit crunch and fears over the current economic climate.

As the UK's biggest supermarket there are already more than 2,100 Tesco stores in the UK and there are plans to open four new stores in Hadleigh, Halesworth, Stowmarket and Manningtree.

Campaigners have been fighting the proposals for some time and last night - in light of the recent profits - asked why more stores were needed.

Valerie McLachlan, treasurer of the Stour Community First group, questioned the need for a supermarket in Manningtree.

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“The opening of a Tesco will kill local shops; small independent businesses will just fold,” she said. “The planned store is just as you come into the town and so it will stop people getting into the centre, it is a bad idea.

“I feel they just don't need any more profits, they get them by bulldozing the small man out of business, exactly what would happen here.

Mike Coultharde-Steer, chairman of the group, added: “A key thing for us is we are not anti-Tesco we just believe proposals here are way out of proportion.

“We are concerned with the effect it will have on local shops on the high street and the impact increased traffic will have.”

Speaking about the case in Halesworth, campaigner Jenny Berry added: “Local businesses would be forced to close if a Tesco opens here.

“If they are doing so well why do they need more stores to open? They claim it will be a small store but for Halesworth it will be gigantic. It will have a massive impact on independent businesses and traffic would be terrible, it's just not the sort of place that needs a Tesco.”

To fight the negative effects of the current economic climate, Tesco recently launched a campaign to become “Britain's biggest discounter” - cutting prices on hundreds of items.

The positive customer response to these moves has been highlighted as a driving force in pushing up their profits.

Suffolk food campaigner Lady Caroline Cranbrook recognised the benefits to consumers of paying low prices - but warned of the detrimental effect to local producers.

“It is helpful for consumers to pay as little as possible but the industry can't bear the costs for long,” she said. “We could not live without supermarkets but there is a real concern that food producers will bear the brunt of the price cuts.”

She said the UK currently relies on importing food from abroad but long distance supply chains were becoming fragile - increasing the need for local retailers.

“We must look to the future,” she said. “We can't rely on the world to feed us. It is important to look after our local food producers and local shops, especially as it becomes harder to import from abroad.

“What worries me in cases like Halesworth and Hadleigh is that a big supermarket will come in and take away a lot of small independent shops.”

Last night a spokesman for Tesco said the supermarket giant was bringing forward the proposals in Suffolk and Essex for “a variety of reasons.”

“First we are a retailer and there is a need for improved grocery shopping in these places,” he said. “Secondly, we know that - despite the views of those who oppose us - huge numbers of local people will welcome a Tesco store which is convenient, easy to reach and offers great products - many of them supplied by local suppliers - at competitive prices.”

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