Tesco's attempt 'to put record straight' meets stiff resistance

Tesco has been accused of running a "spin" operation to counter accusations of abuse of its vast market power as a major Competition Commission inquiry into the grocery sector prepares to release its initial thinking.

Letters attacking a website set up by Tesco claiming to "put the record straight" about some of its most controversial projects have flooded into the watchdog.

Graham Hoenes, a resident of Gerrards Cross, the Buckinghamshire town that hit the headlines after a store Tesco was trying to build over a railway line collapsed, is "incensed" by comments the group made on its Talking Tesco website.

"They should rename it Talking Bollocks," he said. "Instead of putting the record straight, Tesco has just twisted the truth. Their comments are completely wrong." In a submission to the watchdog, Mr Hoenes pulled apart Tesco's claims regarding the location of the Gerrards Cross store; the amount of support it has received from residents; the need for the store; and the actions taken by Tesco since the tunnel caved in.

On the website, Tesco said it had "worked with the planners and identified an edge-of-town site just to the south of the railway station". But Mr Hoenes said: "Fact - it is not an edge-of-town location, it is slap bang in the centre of our high street."

Tesco cited "a group of pensioners [who] have come out in strong support of the store, carrying placards outside the site" as evidence that "many residents are still unhappy with the current levels of grocery shopping in the area". Mr Hoenes writes: "Fact: in the last demonstration there were six petitioners demonstrating their support and nearly 100 demonstrating their opposition."

While Tesco asserts that Gerrards Cross was "in need of a food store", which will serve customers shopping up to 20 miles away, Mr Hoenes describes a village with "two supermarkets, two butchers and two green grocers" that is well served by larger supermarkets "a few minutes drive" away. Tesco has itself got several stores within a 5.5-mile radius.

Mr Hoenes was also critical of the Parish Council for accepting money from Tesco to help with a range of local community initiatives. "It was considered by most [residents] to be bribery," he said. In response to Tesco's assertion that "planning permission cannot be bought [and that] they work within the grain of the planning regime," Mr Hoenes points to the £12m contribution Tesco made to the Dome project around the time of planning appeal regarding the Gerrards Cross store. "Tesco employs the best legal and planning brains possible. Councils are cash-strapped. Draw your own conclusions on Tesco's influence," he adds.

Tesco has also picked apart a submission from Lady Caroline Cranbrook, a rural campaigner who believes that big supermarkets damage local economies by forcing small shops out of business. Yesterday Lady Caroline said: "It just depresses me when they deny that opening a superstore has an effect on small shops. It's very difficult arguing with them when they argue that black is white."

A spokesman for Tesco said the website was designed to provoke a debate. "The whole point of Talking Tesco is to put the other view. We don't expect everybody to agree with what we say. There isn't a right or a wrong on some of these issues."

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