Tesco’s dramatic plan to close dozens of “unprofitable” sites and halt the development of nearly 50 new developments reflects a step change in the grocery market, according to independent retailers.

In a bid to revive its fortune the multiple will close 43 stores, many of them Express stores, and shelve plans for 49 others, including disputed supermarket developments.

Jonathan James, former ACS chairman and owner of Budgens Dersingham, Norfolk, said a relatively high proportion of the shelved developments were in the East of England.

Tesco has refused to confirm the sites, but they are believed to include the completed supermarket in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire.

“The local shops in Chatteris can breathe a sigh of relief. In Ely the proposed supermarket was part of plans for a station gateway, so I’m not sure what they’ll do now,” he said.

“But overall it’s wholly indicative of the change in the market, which is now driven by online and convenience.”

Jonathan believes that the projects earmarked for cancelling could be the tip of the iceberg. “There are countless developments behind the scenes which won’t go ahead now. It’s a huge relief for independents that there are unlikely to be new out-of-town sites coming,” he said.

“However, Tesco will probably be more focused than ever on convenience, so it’s a bit of a double-edged sword.”

Chris Mitchener of Swan Street Stores, Hampshire, said the move represented a change of tack for Tesco. “It was always a numbers game, but now market share isn’t the driving force. They’ve got the accountants in and everything has to stand up and they’re not beating their chests anymore - they’re consolidating,” he said. “If there’s a halt, that’s a few months breathing space for us.

“In the long run it could be more worrying as they focus more on profit. However, I’d be more worried if an Aldi or Lidl came to my community.”

Sign of the times

“It’s more symbolic than anything. But until Tesco realises it has a problem - namely that it has invaded and alienated communities across the country - it won’t solve the problem.”“

Mark Canniford, Spar Weston-super-Mare

“These store closures come as no surprise because shopping habits are changing, a trend that councils have been too slow to understand or act upon.“

James Lowman., ACS chief executive