Tesco 'frustrated' by fierce opposition say, we get a raw deal in Bristol
SUPERMARKET giant Tesco claims it is being unfairly treated in Bristol when it comes to planning applications for new stores.
The company is trying to open two new shops in the city and is considering bidding for a third on the Harbourside.
But Tesco claims its plans have been bogged down and delayed by red tape, while rivals have been met with little or no opposition.
It intends to open stores in Knowle and Stokes Croft but on both occasions its plans have come up against fierce opposition from residents and politicians.
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Tesco – Britain's biggest grocery chain – already operates 17 supermarkets, Express, Metro and Extra stores within a two-and-a-half mile radius of the city centre. But a move to open a convenience-style store in the former Jesters Comedy Club on Cheltenham Road, Stokes Croft, has been particularly contentious.
There have been public protests and 70 police officers and 40 bailiffs had to be brought in in March to remove campaigners from the building rooftop, in an operation that cost £60,000.
In contrast there has been little or no objection to Sainsbury's plans to open a store less than half a mile away, in Gloucester Road.
Tesco is also trying to open a store in the former Friendship Inn, on Axbridge Road, Knowle, and once again has met opposition from traders and residents.
Company spokeswoman Melanie Chiswell said Tesco was becoming increasingly annoyed and frustrated with the time it takes to deal with planning applications in Bristol.
In both cases full planning permission is not needed but applications to make alterations to the buildings have been held up as a result of objections and officers' recommendations.
Both applications were lodged in the spring but are not expected to be resolved until the end of the month.
The biggest blow for the company came last October when it pulled the plug on plans for a giant supermarket at Bristol City's ground in Ashton Gate. The plan triggered a massive wave of opposition.
After Tesco pulled out Sainsbury's stepped into the breach – but councillors also refused to approve the Sainsbury's scheme, even though planning officers had recommended it be given permission.
Miss Chiswell said: "It is very frustrating that we cannot get our stores open in the locations that our customers would like us to be operating.
"We have two planning applications for stores in Bristol and both have been subjected to longer delays than we would have expected for what amounts to minor changes to buildings.
"We are disappointed to note that Sainsbury's, which is less than a mile away, was given planning permission under delegated powers while we are subjected to these delays."
Asked whether the opposition would make Tesco consider dropping its expansion plans, Ms Chiswell said: "We are still looking to open new stores in Bristol, even though the process has not been easy for us. This will not prevent us from wanting to press ahead with our plans."
Barbara Janke, the Liberal Democrat leader of the city council, publicly backed the campaign against the Stokes Croft store in the run-up to the General Election.
In April she wrote to Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy, arguing that the proposed store would be out of keeping with the rest of Stokes Croft.
She has held meetings with protesters and Tesco but yesterday did not want to be drawn on the criticism from the company.
Mrs Janke said: "I cannot comment on planning applications. I have met protestors and I have met with representatives from Tesco, but I would not like to take one side or another. I do not have any part to play in the planning process and it would be wrong for me to comment."
City council service director of planning Zoe Willcox added: "As a planning authority we work with all applicants to ensure their applications are dealt with as expediently as possible.
"The reality is that across the country planning applications by retail companies do attract significant public interest, generating views both for and against. Bristol is no different to many other areas of the country in this regard.
"Obviously the planning process needs to reflect this local interest – we have a legal right to consult then present the applications for members to make their democratic decision on planning grounds."
Chris Chalkley, chairman of the People's Republic of Stokes Croft organisation, has been leading the campaign against the planned store in Cheltenham Road. He said: "We have carried out surveys in the area and 90 per cent of people do not want them to come here."