Supermarket chains take court action against cut-price rival

SUPERMARKET giants are uniting against a US-based cut-price chain that could avoid planning rules they have to obey, writes Anne Dixey.

Sainsbury, Tesco and Safeway have taken the unusual step of teaming up to take legal action aimed at making warehouse clubs subject to the same rigorous planning restrictions. The move leaves them open to accusations that they are trying to keep the stores out of Britain. Warehouse clubs - shed-style stores where subscription- paying members can buy cut-price food and goods - have been called the 'silent enemy' because of the way they have hit supermarkets in the US.

The three supermarket chains go to the High Court next month to contest the decision made by Thurrock Borough Council in Essex to give Costco planning permission as a wholesaler. If their judicial review is successful, they say it will set a precedent, classing warehouse clubs as retailers rather than wholesalers.

Peter Bradley, joint spokesman for the supermarkets, said: 'It is not the competition that bothers the retailer . . . we do not mind and we do not fear warehouse clubs coming to Britain but they must compete under the same rules as we do and go through the planning system.'