The vicar of West Mersea thinks Tesco is on the slippery slope.

Its £2.55 billion profit last year may indicate otherwise, but the Rev Sam Norton insists Tesco's way of doing business just can't last.

"Yes, I think Tesco is trying to be greener by reducing ecological costs," he declared.

"But the business is so huge that there is a fundamental incompatibility between Tesco and a sustainable future."

A "significant shift" in the way society's lifestyle habits are structured - including less use of the car, and a massive swing towards local produce - and Tesco could become the proverbial dinosaur.

"The big supermarket chains would fail," he said, "and it could happen by the next decade."

This wouldn't be soon enough for those campaigners across north Essex who are fighting to keep supermarkets - particularly Tesco - out of their town centres. Mr Norton is one of them, and led the unsuccessful fight to stop Tesco turning the site of an old garage in West Mersea into a Tesco Express.

"Even though we believe we are already well-supplied with large food and grocery stores in West Mersea, Tesco thought otherwise," he said.

"At the Colchester Council planning meeting all that was at stake was change of use and, as we couldn't put forward an effective argument against that, the plan went through."

Diggers have already moved on to the Griffon Garage site. Mr Norton expects the store to be open "within a matter of months".

But he is upbeat.

"The big supermarkets' retail strategy - of being effectively middlemen - is damaging to communities and local agriculture. We have to cut out the middlemen," he stressed.

"This battle has been lost - but not the war."

The war is currently on-going in Manningtree and Frinton. Here, campaigners had put great store by last week's Competition Commission's interim report. Many thought the report would look at the dominance by big supermarket chains over UK retail. They were wrong.

"We are very, very unhappy," insisted Dee Patel, who runs the Budgens store in Frinton's Connaught Avenue.

"I sit on the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), and we asked the Competition Commission to investigate, but their report only seems to concentrate on fair competition between supermarket chains."

In fact, the report goes the other way when it states low supermarket prices are "not having significant unintended effects" on smaller stores.

"Independent retail is on its knees now, and, as far as I can see, the Competition Commission has not done anything to help," he said.

Tesco pulled out of its initial foray into Frinton, but has now put in a planning application for a Tesco Express - part of an 18-flat development - near the town centre.

"We expect it to be heard during the first week of December," he explained.

"Will Tesco get it? At the moment, it's 50-50. If they lose, they will appeal - and there is no doubt it will be passed on appeal.

"Frinton's independent retailers will suffer as a consequence and that will destroy the town centre."

But while Tesco is being hyped as the slayer of the small shopkeeper, for some people it has been a bonus.

Lynda McWilliams represents Great Bentley on Tendring Council. Three years ago a Tesco Express opened in the village. When its plans first became known, many residents maintained Tesco needn't bother. They argued Great Bentley had sufficient small shops and supermarkets were only a quick drive away.

"No one was happy about it, and many shops did close," said Mrs McWilliams. "But the store is appreciated by those who don't have transport. It is convenient for them."

Meanwhile, six miles north of Great Bentley, the Stour Community First campaign is still battling to keep a Tesco supermarket out of Manningtree.

The town already has a Tesco Express store and the campaign chairman, Jenny Hawley, does not see the need for a 30,000sq ft supermarket just off High Street - especially when it would be next door to the Co-op's Fiveways supermarket.

"If Tesco were given planning permission for this supermarket, there would be 13 Tesco stores within a ten-mile radius of Manningtree," she explained.

"No, not everyone is against a Tesco supermarket, but those who are wonder what is the point of another store?

"The impact on traffic congestion - not to mention the Co-op, which has been so loyal to Manningtree - would be tremendous."

The unenviable task of showing Tesco's green and community credentials is down to corporate affairs manager Michael Kissman.

The plans for the Manningtree supermarket came under scruntiny at the public consultation in August. Mr Kissman was there and is "confident" residents want a Tesco supermarket.

"Why are they going in their cars to our supermarkets in Colchester, Clacton and Ipswich?" he declared. "I shall tell you why - because there isn't the range of goods they need in the Manningtree area. The consultation told us this."

Mr Kissman was adamant that, despite high profile opposition, Tesco only builds stores where it believes there to be a market.

"If we thought the majority of people didn't want the store - and therefore wouldn't shop at the store - we wouldn't build in that area," he said. "That wouldn't make commercial sense."

The slippery slope? Tesco just doesn't see it that way.


Tesco is the UK's biggest supermarket chain with nearly 270,500 staff and, to date, 1,988 stores.

It has 19 superstores and Express convenience stores in north Essex:

  • Colchester: Hythe (superstore); High Woods (Extra superstore); Crouch Street (Express); Bromley Road (Express)
  • Clacton: Brook Retail Park (superstore)
  • Manningtree: High Street (Express)
  • Tiptree: Church Road (superstore)
  • Brightlingsea: Victoria Place (Express)
  • Thorpe-le-Soken: High Street (Express)
  • Great Bentley: Plough Road (Express)
  • Witham: The Grove (superstore)
  • Braintree: Market Place (superstore); Marks Farm (superstore)
  • Maldon: Fulbridge (superstore)
  • Heybridge: Bentalls Shopping Centre (Express)
  • Chelmsford: Springfield Road (superstore); Princes Road (superstore)
  • Great Baddow: Purbeck Court (Express)
  • Danbury: Maldon Road (Express).

Three more stores are in the pipeline but face fierce opposition - Manningtree (30,000 sq ft superstore), West Mersea (Express), Frinton (Express).

  • Tesco also owns the One Stop chain of convenience stores, although this is managed separately from the main business. There are One Stops in Kirby Cross, Kelvedon, Great Dunmow and Springfield, and three in Colchester, in North Station Road, Hunwicke Road and Plume Avenue.


The Competition Commission's interim report - the final report is due out next May - recommends the supermarket industry should no longer have to prove in the planning application there is a "need" for a supermarket to open one.

If this is adopted, it rules out one of the strongest weapons in the protestors' arsenal.