Britons in revolt against 'hideous' Tescos

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The Independent Online

The backlash has begun. Shares in Tesco, the nation's most popular supermarket, rose to a record high last week. But in towns and cities around the country the once unstoppable chain is meeting a campaign of opposition which claims that high streets have been ruined by an invasion of the brash new Tesco Express convenience stores.

The backlash has begun. Shares in Tesco, the nation's most popular supermarket, rose to a record high last week. But in towns and cities around the country the once unstoppable chain is meeting a campaign of opposition which claims that high streets have been ruined by an invasion of the brash new Tesco Express convenience stores.

The most profitable chain in British history will have 500 Express stores by the end of this year, and aims to have as many as a thousand within the next decade.

A coalition including the Women's Institute, the Association of Convenience Stores and Friends of the Earth last week demanded an official inquiry into the wave of store acquisitions, in particular by Tesco and Sainsbury's.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England called the spread of Tesco Express stores "scandalous", saying that weak local councils have allowed the chain's aggressive shop fronts to dominate the streets.

In the Dartmouth Park area of north London, residents have fought a long-running battle with a new Tesco Express, forcing it to axe plans for a pink vinyl exterior and blanked-out windows. But Mary Port, a local campaigner, says the façade of the new store is still out of character for one of the few remaining pre-war shopping parades.

The Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow, who lives nearby, has joined the criticism of the store's trademark appearance, although he admits its long opening hours are convenient. "I do find my local store a useful resource," he said. "But architecturally I don't think they are pleasant. They are pretty inescapable."

The shops are prefabricated in Aberdeen, and can be made at the rate of one a week. They come ready with freezers, cigarette shelves, tills and checkouts and can be open a matter of days after delivery.

Up the road in Hampstead, the prestigious Heath & Hampstead Society, whose president is the eminent law lord Lord Hoffmann and which recently recruited the former Times editor Sir Simon Jenkins and BBC producer Sir John Tusa as patrons, has been angered by a new Tesco Express in the high street.

Peggy Jay, 92, the society's life president and the mother of Peter Jay, Britain's former ambassador to the United States, said: "It's hideous. It is an offence to Hampstead. The great need is to get rid of this awful white splodge and violent blue and red. The white is the most offensive. The shop itself is great to have, particularly for the elderly, but they must do something as well about the entrance."

But most of the anger directed at the new stores comes from shoppers fearful that the traditional high-street shops whose range is now dwindling will eventually be obliterated altogether. There have been protests in Wilmslow in Cheshire, Thatcham in Berkshire, Witney in Oxfordshire, St Albans in Hertfordshire and Stroud in Somerset. In a number of towns, Tesco Express stores have closed or threatened to close down the Post Office counters they inherited.

According to the Federation of Small Businesses, there were half a million small grocery shops in the UK in the Forties. Now there are only 125,000, catering for a dwindling proportion of the grocery trade; 86 per cent of all food is now bought from supermarkets. The New Economics Foundation, a think-tank, started a rolling campaign earlier this year to document the spread of "Clone Town Britain", under which high streets are dominated by the same few chains.

The number of greengrocers has fallen by 60 per cent over the past decade, while the number of butchers has dropped by 40 per cent. Tesco, meanwhile, is the most profitable retailer in Britain.

A spokesman for Tesco said: "We always try to fit in with the local surroundings and will obviously abide by any planning considerations. When we have convertedstores we have been very sympathetic to the surroundings. We listen as well.

"Many of our Express stores are in places where now, for the first time, people have access to a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables. Independent shops that do a good job for their customers will be able to continue trading alongside us."

Additional reporting by Lauren Meade and Fran Yeoman

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