Tesco shocks rivals with U-turn on UK store openings

Tesco has taken the "unprecedented" step of shelving advanced plans to open UK stores, as the grocery giant focuses on improving its estate and opening smaller stores.

In April, following January's first profit warning in 20 years, Tesco unveiled a £1bn investment plan to turn around its UK performance, after three consecutive quarters of falling underlying sales.

This realignment of its capital expenditure away from a rapid opening programme has seen Tesco halt advanced discussions with developers to open stores in at least 10 locations, including Coalville, Leicestershire, and Eltham, south London. Sources at rival supermarkets said Tesco's U-turns were "unprecedented", following years of relentless expansion that has seen the grocer grow its share of the UK market to a seemingly unassailable 30 per cent-plus.

A Tesco spokesman said: "As we said in April, we will continue to open new space for customers in all formats from Extras to Express, including major new developments in Woolwich, Gateshead and Streatham. It is right that we discuss plans with local authorities first and we won't comment on speculation about individual developments."

Tesco is slashing the space it opens in the UK by 38 per cent to 1.5 million square feet this financial year.

Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer is expected to unveil its weakest quarterly trading figures for three years at its annual meeting on Tuesday, amid renewed speculation that Kate Bostock, its executive director of general merchandise, could be on the way out. The retailer's underlying UK sales are forecast to fall by 6.7 per cent in its first quarter. M&S declined to comment.