Tesco’s response to a letter about the proposed new Tesco store on Mill Road

On 7th December, Mr John Cooter wrote to Tesco concerning the proposed new store. Tesco have sent back a response, which we have seen. We have written back to Tesco.

Dear Ms Duke,

We understand that you wrote to Mr John Cooter on 7 December, in response to his letter to you about the proposed opening of a Tesco Express on Mill Road. We were so surprised by some of the claims made in your letter that we thought it was important to respond.

The Planning Decision
You say that you will be opening the store on 28 January 2008. This date is only eleven days after the Council’s East Area Committee meets to make a decision about your three planning applications, applications that your own representatives told us had to be approved in order for the store to open. We are concerned by this claim since it gives the impression that you are taking for granted the support of the council planners and the councillors – our elected representatives. We find this attitude to local democracy offensive and arrogant. We are also surprised that you only anticipate taking eleven days to build an extension that will increase the size of the shop by forty per cent, particularly since your representatives told us that it would take six months from the date of any hypothetical planning approval being given before the store could open.

The Local Campaign Against a Tesco on Mill Road
We are very surprised that you do not seem to know about the huge, local campaign against your proposed store on Mill Road, which has received national, as well as local, media attention. We are particularly surprised since the only attempt that your representatives have made to speak to the local community was a meeting with our campaign group several weeks ago. (Contrary to your assertion that Tesco meets with local community representatives before the planning process starts, this was at least a year and a half since you first became interested in the site and several months after you had submitted your planning applications to the Council.) Almost 5,000 local people have now signed the petition opposing the opening of a Tesco store on Mill Road. In addition, we understand that the Council has received 1,100 letters of objection to your planning applications which, we have been told, is the largest number they have ever received for a development. If you are interested to see the coverage of the recent protest march by hundreds of local residents against the proposed opening of your store, you can find coverage by The Cambridge Evening News at:
http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/cn_news_cambridge/displayarticle.asp?id=237249 and a film of the march at

The Size of the Store and its Damage to the Local Area
You say that the store would be a small corner shop-type convenience store. This is incorrect. Your proposed store would be less than 10 m2 below the Competition Commission’s threshold for a mid-size store. In other words it would be a very big convenience store, not a small one, as you say. To put it in context, it would be more than twice the size of the nearest chain convenience store on Mill Road (Londis) and more than twenty times the size of the nearest store from which you would be taking business (the family-owned greengrocers, four doors away from the proposed Tesco store).

You say that ‘a Tesco store brings employment, convenience, low prices and good quality products to the local neighbourhood’. In the case of Mill Road at least, you are wrong on all counts. The opening of a Tesco store on Mill Road will raise prices, reduce choice, limit quality, and cost jobs. This is because all the evidence shows that where a Tesco Express opens, independent local shops – which are cheaper than a Tesco Express, as a basket comparison that we did shows – will be forced out of business. We already have thirteen grocery stores, as well as a butcher, a baker, a greengrocer and two independent off-licences, providing what the Daily Telegraph called ‘perhaps Britain’s most internationally eclectic street, where food of almost every type can be bought’. We currently lack neither choice nor quality; a Tesco store will threaten both and will put local people out of work. This is why, contrary to your assertion, your presence here will seriously damage the local community – a fact that the local community has been telling you very clearly for several months.

Traffic Congestion and your Request to Remove Parking Spaces
You mention traffic accessibility which, you say, will be considered at the planning stage. A concern for matters of accessibility and the other important traffic issues that a new Tesco store raises is not reflected in your planning application. As one of the main roads into the city centre, Mill Road is an area of heavy traffic congestion, where parking is very limited. A Tesco store would hugely increase traffic congestion and the problems of parking in the area. As well as the customers who would need somewhere to park (more difficult since you are planning to remove the store’s existing car park), you are asking for a number of parking spaces in the residential street to the rear of the store to be removed. If you manage to get permission for somewhere to make your numerous daily deliveries, you will cause yet more traffic chaos as you manoeuvre your lorries off one of the main traffic arteries in the city.

In any case, and as you may be aware, even were approval for your applications to be granted in January, you will have nowhere to make deliveries. We understand that, having been refused permission to remove the pavement to make a parking bay at the front, you now are planning to ask for changes to the one way, residential street at the back of the site, so that you can deliver there. These changes include the removal of all on-site parking and removal of parking spaces on the street so that your ten metre-long lorries can reverse within a few feet of residents’ front windows several times a day. If approval for this were to be given it would be at the end of a long process, which will not even have begun when the planning decisions are made in January. So, you will have nowhere to make your deliveries; we trust that you are not planning to park illegally on the kerb!

Tesco’s Threat to Competition in Cambridge
Finally, we were interested to see you mention the Competition Commission in the context of your assertion that a Tesco store is good for other local shops. We are afraid that the evidence does not support this view. As you know, Tesco currently owns thirteen stores in Cambridge, most of which are close to the Mill Road site, and has more than a fifty percent share of the grocery sector, making it the ninth most Tesco-dominated town in the UK. As we are sure you also know, the Commission’s recent report into the grocery sector said that high levels of concentration such as this restrict competition and are bad for the consumer. (This is why they say that they are considering changes to the planning rules to introduce a competition test.) Your anti-competitive domination of the Cambridge market is such that your plans to open yet another store, on Mill Road, prompted the leader of Cambridge City Council to refer you to the Office of Fair Trading.

We are pleased to have been given this opportunity to clarify for you the real situation regarding Mill Road, Cambridge. Just to summarise briefly: 5000 signatures on a petition, 1100 planning objections, 600 people on a protest march with cross-party support.

Obviously if you had carried out any form of community consultation previously, you would be aware of the strength of public opposition. Since you can now be in no doubt about the extent to which the Mill Road, and indeed the wider Cambridge community does not want you on Mill Road, we look forward to your decision to withdraw.

You can contact the campaign on info @ nomillroadtesco.org. A copy of your email is attached for ease of reference.

Yours sincerely,

No Mill Road Tesco committee

Email received from Helen Duke at Tesco Customer Services on 7 December 2007

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From: Tesco Customer Service <customer.service@tesco.co.uk>
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Dear Mr Cooter

Thank you for your email and attachment which has reached the office
of Sir Terry Leahy, our Chief Executive. As Sir Terry is currently
away from the office, I am responding on his behalf.

I am sorry that you have not received a response to your letter dated
6th October. Unfortunately, we have no record of this having been
received and were therefore unaware of your concerns until this email.

We will be opening a Tesco Express store in Mill Road, Cambridge on
25th January, 2008. This is a small corner-shop type convenience store
and is the result of customer demand from members of the local

I would like to assure you that before starting any planning or
building works for a new store, we fully research the area and meet
with the local council and local community representatives. This is to
discuss the advantages it would bring.

Please let me reassure you that we would only consider opening a store
in a particular area, if we believed it would benefit the local

Despite your comments, it is never our intention to upset local
retailers. Indeed, we work together with local retailers and it has
often been found that business has increased due to a another
supermarket being in the area. Good retailers do compete, often very
successfully, with supermarkets. Previous Competition Commission
enquiries have found that while the market remains fiercely
competitive, this can only work in the consumer’s best interests.

Tesco takes a partnership approach to our suppliers both in the UK and
around the world and we are constantly working to find new ways in
which we can support local businesses to grow with us. Last year, we
introduced an anonymous survey for our suppliers so that they can tell
us what we can do better, and we are already acting on the findings.

A Tesco store brings employment, convenience, low prices and good
quality products to the local neighbourhood. Added to this is our
world class Clubcard scheme where customers can collect points on
their purchases, to help them save money on their future shopping.

Important traffic accessibility will have been taken into
consideration at the planning stage. It is clearly not in anyone’s
interest to open a store which would deliberately cause such problems.

We have no knowledge, as yet, of a petition having been made, nor of
so many objections having been lodged, as planning permission has
already been granted for this store. In addition, if people have taken
the trouble to march in protest against such a small Tesco store
opening, then clearly they feel very strongly about this issue, and
this is something that we need to look into.

In contrast, emails, letters and calls arrive daily in support of our
store opening. These have come from a variety of people including the
elderly, people with large families, students and disabled persons,
who welcome Tesco into their community.

We do not find it necessary to try and convince people to shop in a
Tesco store. The choice will always lie with the individual and we
thoroughly respect that. However the success of our customers’
shopping experiences speak for themselves. Customers will always vote
with their feet, despite any initial reservations, and we look forward
to welcoming as many people as possible into our new store.

I am very sorry that you are unhappy with our decision to open a Tesco
Express in your local area. I have therefore made our Planning Team
aware of your concerns.

Thank you for bringing your views to the attention of our Chief Executive.

If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact us
at customer.service@tesco.co.uk quoting TES4406049X.

Kind Regards

Helen Duke
Tesco Customer Service Executive

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