As the Competition Commission embarks on the next stage of its investigation of the grocery market, a special investigation by Convenience Store shows that a minimum of 64 new stores owned by the big four are being pushed through this year, despite organised local opposition.

A dossier compiled from telephone calls to the Convenience Store office, local newspaper cuttings and the Tescopoly website reveals that there are at least 64 contested developments currently being carried out by the big four multiples, 58 of them by Tesco.

With potentially dozens of other developments being planned in secret or accepted without significant local publicity, the true number of new supermarkets and convenience stores opened by the big four is likely to run into three figures in the next year.

One of the latest proposed developments is at Manningtree in Essex, dubbed "England's smallest town", where Tesco is hoping to build a supermarket despite already having an Express store nearby.

There are only four UK postal areas where Tesco does not currently operate a store, and plans are currently being displayed to move into one of them, at Harrogate in North Yorkshire. The supermarket giant is also looking to build stores in two of the other areas - Shetland and Orkney - potentially leaving only the Western Isles without a Tesco store.

Competition Commission inquiry chairman Peter Freeman said last month that the CC would be taking a close look at how supermarket chains use the planning system.

He said: "We need to see what choices shoppers have in particular areas and how competition works between retailers of different sizes. We know about the extent of retailers' land holdings, but it's how these are used at local level, and the related effect of the planning system, that matters.

"It would be a cause for concern if supermarkets, either individually or collectively, were in a position to increase prices or lower their offer in any particular locality or region because of a lack of effective competition. We are concerned with whether Tesco, or any other supermarket, can get into such a strong position, either nationally or locally, that no other retailer can compete effectively."

The Competition Commission is due to publish its final report in November.

The Tesco file

Tesco knocked down Partick Central railway station in Glasgow to make way for a supermarket. Local people claim they were not informed.
The giant is due to submit plans for an 80,000sq ft store in Belper, Derbyshire, within weeks.
Uckfield town council in East Sussex and Tesco are in a bidding war to purchase a derelict adult education centre in the town.
Tesco is appealing against London's Barnet Council rejection of a proposed Express store, after it had tried to convert a carpet shop without admitting it was to become a grocery store.
The local council in Gravesend, Kent, has deferred a decision on a new Express store after councillors became concerned about the effect on local traders.

Are you concerned about a supermarket development near you? Call Rich Airey on the C-Store news desk on 01293 610220.