The competition proves too much for the only remaining Bicester c-store

The only remaining independent convenience store in Britain’s most Tesco-dominated town has been put up for sale, C-Store has learned.

With a population of just over 30,000, Bicester in Oxfordshire has a total of six Tesco stores, including four in the Express convenience format. This is the equivalent to one store per 5,185 residents, making it the most Tesco-heavy town in the country. Furthermore, construction has begun on a new town centre Sainsbury’s, while a new Lidl is also in the pipeline. 

The local Londis retailer, Ghanshyam Patel, who has put his store on the market, said: “I can’t compete anymore. I’m bringing in £1,000 less per week than last year. Nothing I do works.”

Andy Robins, manager of a McColl’s in the town, said the new Sainsbury’s would “kill” the town centre. “We’ve lost a butchers and a greengrocer is about to close. The council does nothing to support local retailers.”

A spokesman for local authority Cherwell District Council said it could not discriminate in favour of independent traders “but can only ensure that a variety of premises is provided”. He added: “In circumstances where a supermarket chain opts to take over a vacant retail unit, planning permission is not required, so again local authorities have no control over brand dominance.”

In a town of fewer than 40,000 people, Andover is the second most Tesco-centric location in the UK with five stores, according to a special C-Store investigation. A local retailer claimed Tesco was applying for planning permission to open another store on the outskirts of town, despite two previous rejections. Punit Patel, manager of Nisa Weyhill Stores, feared the council would approve the latest store if Tesco modified the application. “Tesco wants to kill the small businessman. The council doesn’t try to stop it because it gets good money for surrounding roads.”

Test Valley Borough Council confirmed it had received a planning application for a retail store on the road in question, but added that “there is no indication submitted with the application as to who might occupy the store”. Tesco declined to comment.

The council said it did “not discriminate between one kind of shop and another”. However, it added that independents often gain and participate most in council-led support networks such as ‘Town Centre Management’ and ‘Andover Vision’. In addition, the council offers a £500 Business Incentive Grant to new businesses across the borough, and encourages smaller businesses to apply for Small Business Rate Relief. “The eligibility criteria does not allow for larger businesses and chains to qualify so the scheme is inherently supportive of independents,” a council spokesperson said. “Approximately 60-70% of those businesses that might be eligible claim the relief.”

There is some hope for c-stores trying to fight their corner. Over the past six months a number of planning decisions have gone against Tesco and communities have achieved major campaign victories.

Town No. of Tescos Population per store
Bicester 6 5,185
Andover 5 7,591
Southampton 24 9,759
Nottingham 25 9,983
Cambridge 11 10,312
Bristol 39 10,783
High Wycombe 7 11,025
Wigan 7 11,600
Taunton 5 11,648
Bedford 7 11,784
Solihull 8 11,844
Manchester 33 11,947
Milton Keynes 15 12,304
Norwich 14 12,431
Torquay 5 12,593
Worthing 8 12,762
Maidstone 7 12,812
Blackpool 11 12,934
Middlesbrough 10 14,269
Chelmsford 7 14,280

NB: The statistics were derived from Tesco's website on February 7. Some of the stores listed under each town may be in the surrounding area.

Read more
Stand your ground against Tesco et al (16 February 2011)