Panorama – one of "big four" supermarkets gets planning permission in UK every working day

A nationwide study into the expansion of supermarkets in the UK – the first of its kind – found that somewhere in the UK one of the “big four” gets planning permission every working day of the year. Supermarkets – What Price Cheap Food? is a Panorama special on Wednesday 22 December at 9pm on BBC One.

Over the last two years, 577 new stores have been approved. Tesco is out in front with 392, Sainsburys have 111, Morrisons 41 and Asda 33.

BBC Panorama, in collaboration with BBC Nations and Regions, asked each of the UK’s planning authorities how many new supermarkets they have sanctioned over the last two years from small metros to the mega stores.

London will have the most new stores with 110 approved. Birmingham and Glasgow will have 15 new stores, Leicester 12 and 11 each in Leeds and Bristol. There will be 10 in Durham – Northern Ireland, Edinburgh and Nottingham will each have eight.

Some local authorities enter into agreements with supermarkets to provide new community facilities, as part of the deal for allowing a new store.

In Seaton, Devon, Tesco offered the council a new sports centre and funding for arts projects. In Bishop’s Waltham, Sainsbury’s will be building a new doctors’ surgery if they get permission for a new supermarket. The BBC study found that at least one in five of the stores approved in the last two years have involved additional development.

Some of the agreements are staggering in their size. In Gateshead, Tesco have offered £150m to help recreate the town. There are also plans for swimming pools, libraries, schools and even a Tesco-built police station.

Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall, of River Cottage, in Devon, is against the expansion and tells the programme: “Such is the power of the supermarkets, they are effectively rearranging the entire landscape to suit their business practices.

“You don’t need to explain the attraction of cheap food, everybody likes saving money, but the effect of that simple drive to bring down price – it’s massively altering the way we produce food, the scale on which we produce food. This is costing us in our landscape, this is costing us our, our food culture, this is, this is changing, the quality of the land that we walk on, potentially even the quality of the air that we breathe. I mean, this is big stuff.”

Stephen Robinson, of the British Retail Consortium, says: “What supermarkets have done is produce a fantastic range of quality food at very affordable prices and, indeed, healthier foods in a way that 50 years ago, 20 years ago, we couldn’t possibly have.

“What we do know that in the last 10 years there’s been modest consistent expansion. But remember, this brings in investment to parts of Britain, this brings jobs, training and it also provides choice to customers and, at the end of the day, customers don’t want to shop somewhere they don’t have to – we don’t force them.”

In response to the charge the supermarkets are destroying the High Street, he says: “I think that’s not to do with supermarkets or any other one sector. You might as well choose the internet and accuse that of having closed shops on the High Street.”

David Holdsworth, Controller English Regions at the BBC, said: “We wanted to understand the impact of the growth of supermarkets on local communities and, alongside Panorama, we will be looking at this on depth on our local TV, radio and online services.”

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