Marina Pepper and I spent the whole of Tuesday in the planning office of Lewes District Council sifting through documents looking for holes in Tesco’s application to expand by over 40%. Let’s be clear: Tesco is a multinational corporation and its consultants, Montague Evans, have the arguments down to a tee. Much of their evidence is estimated, predicted or extrapolated. By predicting a growing economy, they can claim that the effect of ‘only’ 4-5 shops closing will be remedied within two years. By linking the predicted increase in employees to increase in floor space they inflate the job numbers created by the expansion. They use a complex impact argument to claim that a £4.88 million revenue increase in their comparison goods will have a tiny effect on the town centre.
Many claims border on the hilarious. Tesco says that by increasing local jobs it will increase the local multiplier effect (used to measure money circulating in the local economy). It plans to become carbon neutral (rather difficult if much of your profits are based on transporting largely non-organic goods around the world) and it claims to support local food production.
There’s hidden information too: the plan shows four new bays for the dotcom local delivery business but there’s no mention of the increase in traffic that would be caused by the vans themselves or the produce vans supplying them.
According to the Retail Consultant hired by the District Council (and Tesco’s own figures) under the Competition Test, which was due to be incorporated into the new planning policy PPS4 last December, Tesco’s plans would have failed on all three counts. It’s taking over 60% of the convenience market; there are only two supermarkets in Lewes, and it’s not a new entrant.
There’s a clear case of monopoly here. How sad it would be if Tesco Lewes was the last superstore allowed, before the Competition Test became law, which might even happen before the General Election.