No brand embodies the dominance of the big four more than Tesco, which had a whopping 392 planning applications for stores approved in the two years to last November, according to BBC research. But where does the retail giant exert its stranglehold most tightly? Our own research has identified the towns and cities across the UK which are most saturated by the brand, whether in the supermarket, Metro or Express formats.

Top of the list are Bicester and Andover respectively, both of which have populations of between 30,000 and 40,000. But it’s not just medium-sized towns in the top 10 - Southampton, Nottingham and Bristol and their vicinities were third, fourth and sixth on the list respectively. Perhaps revealingly, Nottingham was recently named 10th poorest UK town based on earnings.

But whatever the explanations behind Tesco towns, independent stores are fighting for their survival in such places. Local retailers in Bicester and Andover feel abandoned by central and local government, and believe Tesco has the power to expand as it pleases. And the fact that the only independent convenience store in Bicester is up for sale underlines the importance of protecting the local high street.

The government has made a big noise about passing down more power to communities, but it is vital that its localism agenda has the interest of small retailers at heart. That is why the ACS is campaigning for ministers to include a statutory duty to promote sustainable high streets in the Localism Bill. It is calling on MPs to back changes that would make it illegal for councils to allow large out-of-town supermarkets that are proven to harm high streets. The amendments being debated over coming weeks are supported by a Parliamentary motion sponsored by Andrew George MP (St Ives).

What you can do

- Write to your MP and ask them to back changes to the Localism Bill that would protect local retailers 
- Support the ACS’ Sustainable High Streets campaign. For more details visit, - Take local action work with other retailers and community groups to oppose developments in your area 
- Get involved find out how your council supports local businesses and attend public meetings.

But there have been a number of recent success stories, where councils have refused planning permission to Tesco and others often following well-orchestrated local campaigns.

In October Communities Secretary Eric Pickles threw out Tesco plans to nearly double the size of a store in Stoke-on-Trent. Stoke Council had initially granted permission for the upgrade, but the proposal went to a planning inquiry after complaints from local businesses. The government inspector then ruled that an extended store “would likely result in a decline in Newcastle [Under-Lyme] town centre trade/turnover”.

In Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire, Tesco’s plan for a new shop front, cash machine and a illuminated signage were met with 528 letters of opposition from residents and a 395-petition signature. The council subsequently refused planning permission for the applications.

And last Sepember Tesco decided against developing on a community garden site in Brighton, East Sussex, following protests. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who represents the constiuency, said at the time: “I am delighted that Tesco has listened to the concerns the local community have about development on this site, and I warmly welcome their decision. I pay tribute to all the local people who have fought such a tireless campaign to preserve the community garden.”

So it goes to show that with a well-organised local campaign, Tesco and other multiples can be stopped in their tracks.

Read more
Last indie in ‘Tesco town’ loses the fight (16 February 2011)
Lowman rallies troops for ‘vital political battle’ ahead of ACS Summit (15 February 2011)
ACS steps up campaign for local high streets (25 January 2011)