It's probably just coincidence but lately a clutch of retailers have rung me about planning applications. A few years ago it was simpler in one sense. It was the little guy against the superstore, David versus Goliath. My planning file has a set format for fighting them: marshall all the retailers to be affected, get up a petition and give it a name (RATS – Retailers Against Tesco), lobby the council/MPs, get publicity on a local level, maybe a traffic assessment.

Giant superstores leave an indelible mark and the public are aware of it even if they have to personally wrestle with the decision whether to use them or not.

Far harder is the latter-day picture. David versus little clone. I believe that, secretly, officials think, well, the clones are small and efficient but probably charge more. It will keep the independent on his toes. Hardly any of them keep the bigger picture in place for very long (Monopoly anyone?). Certainly, politicians are not known for their long-termism. 

Even harder is when the competition isn’t Tesco but just a run-of-the-mill, slightly bigger store. What can you do then?

Raj Parmar, who runs Royston’s Express in Chelmsford, Essex, is up against Somerfield 100 yards away, It used to be a Texaco forecourt store and about 1,000 sq ft. It has put in planning permission to double in size and add six spaces for car parking. 

Raj, who has had the store for two years and has invested £40,000 in it, is trying to locate his landlord (who is abroad) to see if he can buy the business and invest to make it bigger. His MP is away for three weeks, the local council isn’t interested, no other retailer is affected and he only has until March 13 to put his views to the council.

So far, his only hope is to canvass the flats nearby to see if he can drum up support. He doesn’t even know if this impending enlarged competition will hurt him. I have suggested that, being a Somerfield managed outlet, it will need to charge higher prices to pay for its management and that Raj should display boards comparing his (favourable) prices to the locals. 

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