Campaigning to curb supermarket power

Campaign Tools

The planning advice in these FAQs is historic. For planning advice please click here

Learning from others

If you are producing written and visual materials for your campaign, or objecting to a planning application in writing, you may find it useful to refer to campaign materials from other campaigns in the local campaigns section. Below is a selection.

Posters and flyers

Some campaigns have found it useful to produce posters and flyers to get across their message to the community. Posters can be displayed for example in shop windows. See materials produced by campaigners in the following campaigns:

The "Stour Community First" campaign group in Manningtree, Essex produced this Counter Argument Leaflet (October 2008) in response to a flyer Tesco distributed to households. They also produced a Myth Buster flyer and Manningtree A5 Poster.

Chorlton, Manchester produced a  'space invaders' poster and a 'one choice' poster.

Havant, Hampshire-  the poster attracted local media attention.

Campaigners in Inverness produced a poster, a second poster, and a flyer.

Campaigners in Partick, Glasgow have produced a poster and a leaflet.

Some groups have set up campaign websites:

Ashtead - Save Ashtead's Village Environment (SAVE)
Manningtee - Stour Community First

Letters of objection

Many campaigns have submitted objection letters to the local authority, or other bodies involved in the decision process. It may be useful for you to see some of the letters written by other campaigners. However, please bear in mind that objection letters should concentrate as far as possible on local circumstances and planning guidance.

Objection letter produced by campaigners in Glencoe Road, Yeading, West London.
Campaigners in Penistone, South Yorkshire, wrote a letter of objection to the planning application.
Trader Steve Parfett has written letters of objection to planning applications in Queensbury and Sowerby Bridge, both in West Yorkshire.
Campaigners in Crediton, Devon, wrote a letter of objection and a supplementary objection to the planning application.
Campaigners in Partick, Glasgow, wrote a letter of objection to the planning application.
Campaigners in Stretford, Manchester, wrote a written submission to the Public Inquiry into the application. They also wrote to neighbouring Councils, Manchester and Salford, asking them to attend and present their objections in person.
Campaigners in Worcester wrote a submission to the Public Inquiry.
Campaigners in Helston, Cornwall, wrote a letter to the District Council planning committee.
Residents in Birchgrove, Cardiff, wrote a letter to local Councillors.
Campaigners in Havant, Hampshire wrote a letter to the Secretary of State asking for the application to be called-in.
The "Stour Community First" campaign group produced this Post Card to Councillors.
Read the Stour Community First campaign Top tips May 2010.doc.

Alternative Visions

Campaign groups in Queen's Market, East London, and Archway, North London, have worked on alternative visions for their community.

We have collected success stories from around the UK, just click here to read about recent campaign successes.

This section contains links to further resources and sources of information and support.

Planning Aid provides free, independent and professional advice and support on planning issues to people and communities who cannot afford to hire a planning consultant. Planning Aid complements the work of local authorities but is wholly independent of them.

Friends of the Earth has a telephone advice line, staffed by lawyers and legal volunteers, to offer members of the public advice on environmental legal problems. The line is open the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of every month, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm at 0808 801 0405. 

Navigus Planning is a small town planning practice focusing on local community planning and infrastructure.Chris Bowden, director of Navigus Planning, has been involved throughout Manningtree’s battle against a Tesco supermarket proposed for the edge of the town. He has produced objections covering a range of planning matters for Stour Community First, the group fighting the plans, and is able to advise other groups, as well as providing technical assistance with objections. Please visit their website or telephone 01206 700260.

The Environmental Law Foundation can provide more specialist help if you are seeking a Judicial Review.

The Association of Convenience Stores has a comprehensive website with information on its campaigns to protect local shops.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has a planning website with advice on responding to planning applications.

The UK Government’s Planning Portal is a good resource from which to learn about the planning system, apply for planning permission, find out about development near you, appeal against a planning decision and research the latest government policy.

nef (the new economics foundation) has published a number of reports revealing how retail spaces once filled with a thriving mix of independent shops are fast being filled with faceless retail chains or are closing down entirely. Ghost Town Britain looks at the impact on driving people away from town centre shopping, and Clone Town Britain argues that town centres are increasingly homogenous.

Planning law

Yes. When any application is received it will be validated by the Council, after which the council have to publish information about the application for people to see and reply to. It should be published on the Council’s planning register. This is usually now available online on the Council’s website. Ask the Council if you don’t know the planning application reference number and want to see the entry on the online planning register. Alternatively, you should be able to visit the Council offices to view the application and any documents submitted with it. If you do not have access to the internet and would have difficulties visiting the Council offices, contact the Council.

Local Councils are also required to publicise the application with a notice on the site or by an advert in a local newspaper. This should include a deadline by which time submissions on the application should be made.

Once the application has been publicised, you can submit a planning objection in writing, and talk to councillors and planning officers about the application.

The process should be the same for any application, whether it is a new store, or an application for an extension to an existing store, changes to conditions in the original planning consent, or changes to the design of the store.

If you have concerns about the level of consultation carried out by the Council and think they may not have carried out sufficient consultation, you may have a case for a judicial review. If you feel this may be the case, please contact us for more information, or contact the Environmental Law Foundation or phone Friends of the Earth’s environmental law helpline on Wednesday evenings at 0808 801 0405.

The planning system in Britain gives local residents that may be affected by a development the chance to have their say. It can seem complicated to find your way around and work out what you have to do. But the fundamental principles are quite simple and it is designed to give communities a say on developments.

The basis of the planning system is that new development has to be approved by the Council. Most supermarket developments will be covered by this. A developer or retail chain will submit an application to the Council, often after having negotiated about aspects of the development with the Council beforehand. The Council then has to consider this application.

If an application has been submitted, you should find out from the Council how long there is to object before the deadline on submissions, and when the decision date is. In England, the delay before an application is considered tends to be longer than in Wales, where most are considered within a few weeks. A typical initial target date for a supermarket application is 13 weeks, although more often than not it takes much longer, sometimes up to a year.

An application will either be an “outline application” or a “full application.” An outline application focuses only on the principles of the development only. There will need to be further applications afterwards on the details of the development before it has permission and can be built. But is important to object to the outline application because this will be the stage at which the principle of whether a supermarket can be built will be made.

A full application is more normal for a supermarket proposal and deals with all matters together in a single application.

A decision will normally be made by those elected councillors that are part of the planning committee. They will base this decision on the recommendation of paid planning officers at the Council who will have looked into the application. The planning officers must have regard to national policy when making their decision. For a retail development this means the issues they will consider will include:

- the impact the development would have on the "vitality and viability" of town centres in the area, including the impact on existing shops;
- the traffic and car use implications of the store;
- the quality of the design;
- the impact on local residents;
- other considerations, such as regeneration, and job creation (and loss).

Planning officers must also follow policies set out in the district local plan or Local Development Framework which may even set out specific proposals for the site on which the supermarket wants to build.

The planning officers should take into consideration local residents’ objections to the development when looking into the application. After considering the application, the officers will write a report on the development, including a recommendation on whether they think the application should be approved or refused, and if it is approved, what conditions they think should be imposed. They should also recommend what contributions should be made to improve the impacts of the development (click here for information on securing appropriate planning contributions).

The elected Councillors on the planning committee will then make a decision based on the recommendation. The decision will be made by a vote. They can go against the recommendation, if the Councillors have considered the information collected by the officers but come to a different conclusion about whether the development should be approved. However, they have to have clear reasons for doing so. Often it is as important to  lobby the Councillors informally as it is to formally object to the application (click here to find out how you can lobby the councillors who will be making the decision).

In some cases, the application will be considered at a higher level of government than the Council. This happens if the Council refuses the application and the developer appeals the decision, or if it is a particularly controversial application, and is “called-in” for consideration by the government. This can happen after an application is considered by the Council, or before it has considered the application. Follow these links for more information on appeals and Public Inquiries.

If the supermarket is approved, the developer will be able to carry out the development. There will normally be a time limit within which the development must take place, conditions which it must adhere to, and often extra details that still need to be agreed by further planning applications. If the application is refused, the developer can either appeal, submit a new, revised application, or give up. In our experience it is rarely the last option.

For more information on the workings of the planning system, please see the UK Government's Planning Portal website, and the Department for Communities and Local Government website.

In order to properly reduce the effects of its development, a supermarket should offer (and the Council should require) a list of planning contributions as part of what is known as a ‘Section 106 agreement’. This could include providing or offering money towards, for example, improving links to the town centre, pedestrian crossings and general road safety measures or improved bus services.

There are three tests that a planning contribution must pass to make it acceptable. It must be:

• related to the proposed development;
• necessary to make the development acceptable in planning terms; and
• fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the development.

These tests were designed to prevent local Councils seeking contributions towards items which a new development had no impact on. So money towards improving the local hospital or a new swimming pool are not permissible.

These requirements used to be simply guidance that a local Council could choose to follow or, largely ignore. Often this resulted in accusations of big supermarkets ‘buying’ a planning permission by offering to pay for something that wouldn’t otherwise get done. However, these tests are now in law and are being firmly enforced.

So look out for the rumours (which are rarely true) that a new supermarket will pay for something that a town wants. They cannot do this. Equally, push the local Council hard to ensure that any supermarket proposal properly pays the appropriate level of contribution. Supermarkets are notorious for paying very little in the way of planning contributions. Whilst an application is being considered, the Section 106 will be being negotiated between the local Council and the supermarket. Make sure full details are provided to you and if you think that it is not providing enough, then add this to your objections along with your views on what you think the supermarket should contribute towards if it is granted permission.

Starting a local campaign group

It is important to develop clear messages to put across your points. You could create some written and visual materials, such as leaflets and posters. Keep them as clear, concise and to the point as possible. Distribute leaflets to those people most likely to be affected by the development, including local residents and businesses. 

Get in touch with:

  • residents likely to be affected by the development
  • existing retailers
  • traders groups such as the local Chamber of Commerce or Chamber of Trade, or a local branch of the Federation of Small Businesses
  • citizens and environmental groups such as the local branches of Friends of the Earth and the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

You could organise a public meeting. Try to do this together with other local groups. You could invite local celebrities or supermarket campaigners from other areas to speak at the meeting.

Try to get in touch with the local media. Increasingly, local newspapers and regional television in particular are giving more and more coverage to local supermarket planning battles. Getting coverage in the local media can add a lot of strength to your campaign and help to put pressure on the supermarket chain and the Council. To start a debate in your local newspaper you could write a letter to the paper which would hopefully trigger a debate on the letters page.

Use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to get your point across. However, be aware that these sites are open to anyone across the world, so could be open to abuse or misrepresentation.

Contact us if you would like your campaign to be listed on the Tescopoly website. This can add more publicity to your campaign nationally. We can also publicise any campaign materials you produce, objection letters and so on.

Get your group to designate a spokesperson or press officer. Send out press releases about what you're doing to the local newspaper, radio, and TV. Follow up press releases with phone calls to make sure they've got it. When something major happens in your campaign, have someone ready to give an interview to the media.

Think of interesting angles on what you're doing and who your supporters are. Carrying out surveys, petitioning, demonstrations, handing out leaflets in the town, or imaginative publicity stunts can all be interesting news stories for your local press.

Seeds for Change have an excellent set of free resources on media work for campaign groups on their website.

Contact the Council

The first thing to do is to contact the Council. They are the most likely to have the information you are looking for, and most likely to be happy to give it to you. You can find the planning department of your Council by looking at its website or phoning its switchboard.

If the Council has received a planning application from a supermarket chain, it will be able to provide you with information about it. If the application has been received and validated by the Council, it will be published on the Council’s planning register.  Most authorities now provide access to this through their websites and include all the relevant documents. The Council should also publicise an application with a site notice or an advert in a local newspaper.

Even if no application has yet been submitted, the Council may well have information about plans for a supermarket. As the planning system is complicated, developers often start discussions with the local authority long before they submit an application. In Darlington, the Council and Tesco were in negotiation for three years before the plans came to public knowledge, after which the council abandoned the plans due to public opposition.

Most developers approach the Council before an application is submitted. This is perfectly legal and allows the local Council to raise concerns with the plans at an early stage – and if the concerns are too significant, it may not even get to application stage. However, the detail of these negotiations is usually kept confidential – this is normal practice and does not mean that the Council is siding with the supermarket.

If the Council won't help

If you suspect that there may be plans for a supermarket, but the Council isn’t giving you the information, then you can try looking elsewhere for information. Talk to some of the people circulating the rumour, such as local residents and businesses, and find out where they have the information from. Your local parish or town council (in parished areas) may well know, as may your local councillor. If there is a specific supermarket chain or developer that you know is rumoured to be involved, try contacting that company to see if it can give you information. It is worth digging around – even if one person does not give you the information, someone else might. It’s often easier to find out information than you think – try phoning as many possible sources of information as possible and you may get the information you are looking for.

One tactic is to talk to your local newspaper and see if they can do some digging. A new supermarket is often a big story for a small local paper and supermarkets are well versed in keeping these newspapers on side, so are more likely to be forthcoming about their future plans.

If you are aware that a supermarket development is taking place but aren’t sure which supermarket chain it will involve, try contacting the Council. In some cases, a developer will have submitted the application and the Council may not know which retailer it is until after the application has been approved. It is also possible that the Council may not be willing to give you the name of the retailer at this stage.

If you feel that the Council has information that it is withholding from you, then you can submit a request for the information formally under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. For more information on this process, please see the Friends of the Earth guide to “Your right to know."

Once you the know the rumour is true

Once you find out  that a supermarket has submitted or is planning to submit a planning application, you can make your views heard through the planning process. Click here for more information on the planning system. Even before an application is submitted, you can still start campaigning, talking to the Council about your views, and attracting local media interest. For example you should check policies in your adopted Local Plan or Core Strategy at this stage to check whether the principle of a new supermarket in the location being considered is acceptable. And be aware that a supermarket may be seeking to influence planning policy to enhance their prospects of securing planning permission. You can influence that policy too.  

Application submitted

When objecting to a planning application, there are certain things that you should always try and make sure you do:

1. Write the application reference number and name/address of the scheme at the top of your letter. This will make sure that there is no confusion as to which application you are objecting. This is less of an issue if you choose to make your representations by way of the online system that most local authorities use because you have to navigate your way to the application in question before you can submit your objections.

2. Make clear that you object. State in bold, capital letters in the very first sentence ‘I OBJECT to this application for the following reasons...’ It is amazing how many responses don’t make this clear and can be put in the ‘neutral’ pile by the case officer. Also, give your address so that the local authority knows you come from within the district/local area in question.

3. Refer to development plan. For each point you make, explain why it is contrary to the development plan and list the relevant policy reference. You should also try and respond to any development plan policies that conflict with your views, making clear why you consider them to be less relevant in determining the application. In respect of the development plan, it is important to distinguish between the adopted plan and the emerging plan. It is usually the adopted plan which is the one that holds most weight but an emerging plan, particularly if at an advanced stage, also holds weight. If in doubt, you can ask the case officer or, best of all, simply refer to the policies in both plans.

4. Make clear if there are any other material considerations that should be taken into account. These are matters which policy does not cover but are planning issues of importance. There is more guidance on what might represent a material consideration here.

5. Don’t be emotive, focus on the issues. The case officer is usually not the one making the final decision but will be making his or her professional recommendation to the members that will. In most cases, the members of the planning committee will accept those recommendations which are made solely on the planning matters at hand.  It is best to leave the more ‘personal’ arguments to the time when you are allowed to address the members at the planning committee meeting.

6. Consider the public interest - explain how the development affects the local community as a whole. Avoid focusing on issues such as land ownership, the effects of the proposal on the value of neighbouring property, or the personal circumstances of the applicant.

7. Always try to use evidence to support a point, rather than just making an assertion that cannot be backed up (even if, in your heart of hearts, you know it to be true).  If at all possible, refer to planning case law on an equivalent matter. If you need help on this, contact Tescopoly and we may be able to refer you to some relevant decisions.

8. Make as many points as you can – give the planning officer and members the ammunition they need to justify refusing the application.

9. Use pictures to make your point – don’t just say that the site floods, take a picture and make sure than the photo includes the date and time it was taken.

10. Get your comments in on time. Late comments may be taken into account, particularly if your views don’t cause any delay in the decision, but you can’t rely on this. If you are sending an email, then include a postal address.

Some sample letters which may help to give you a flavour of the points you want to be making can be found here.

If a planning application has been submitted for a new supermarket, you will have opportunities to object as a resident or business of the area in which the supermarket will be built. Even if you are not a resident or do not have a business in the area, you can object.

Keep an eye on the deadline

The first thing to do is to find out from the Council how much time you have to object, and the date on which the application will be considered. Often the Council will apply standard timescales for consultation, based on the application being determined within the standard 13-weeks. This timetable is rarely kept to because there are so many issues for the planning officers to consider.

The case officer will usually accept objections right up to when he or she writes the committee report which states what their recommendation is. This is usually about 7-10 days before the planning committee meets. However, particularly if you have very important points to make, it is best to get your objection in with sufficient time for the officer to give it full consideration. You can keep in touch with the case officer who will usually give you an idea of when they think the application will go to the planning committee.

Talk to councillors and planning officers

It is worth talking to councillors and planning officers about the application and about the local policies that will be relevant. You will be able to find out who your ward/parish councillors are by looking at your Council’s website or by telephoning the Council. Call the Council’s planning department, which should tell you which officer is dealing with the application.

Examine the documents

All the documents submitted as part of the planning application will be available in hard copy at the Council offices. It is also usually possible to get a copy placed in the local library. The Council will usually request that you ask the applicant direct and in most cases, the applicant will do this to try and retain goodwill. Alternatively, most applications are now put on the Council’s online planning application system. It is worth checking with the case officer as some very large documents may not be put on the website.

Usually the application will consist of a raft of different, often very technical documents. Try not to be daunted by this but do be prepared to spend a lot of time ploughing through them. If there are documents which you do not understand but feel are important, there are experts available to provide advice, often for free. For more information on Planning Aid and other possible sources of help, click here.

The government produces national planning policy to assess new types of development, and this is provided by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The government requires local Councils to produce local planning documents (called either Local Plans or Local Development Frameworks, with the main document in the case of the latter being the Core Strategy) which new applications have to comply with. You should use these policies in the objection you submit to the council.

Submit your objections

You should write a letter that is brief, courteous and measured. Refer to the planning application reference number, and be as specific as possible. Make clear in the first sentence that you OBJECT to the application. You should make reference to national and local planning documents to back up your comments and make your submission more robust. Stick to issues that the planning process encompasses (see the section on issues considered by the planning committee). Do mention specific effects on you as a resident or trader, and mention local characteristics and circumstances – for example, if the neighbourhood has robust and thriving local shops that may be damaged by the supermarket, or if these are important for the area's tourism.

Try to submit your letter on time, based on the deadline for submissions given by the Council. You can often submit objections after the deadline, and the planning officers will still have to consider them, but the earlier your concerns are made the better.

Try to encourage others to submit letters of objection as well. These can be based on a template if you prefer but some Councils see these as representing just one letter. It is therefore best if people write their own letter.

You may find it useful to look at objection letters submitted by other campaigners against store applications in their areas.

You may also wish to put together a petition which has to be considered by the Council, provided everybody signs the letter. It has more weight if everyone puts their address or sufficient parts of their address (house number and full postcode) to confirm that they live in the area.

You may want to gather some information to challenge figures submitted by a developer. Research for Friends of the Earth found that supermarkets often submit inadequate or even inaccurate information to back up an application.  Challenging this could be really powerful.  You can carry out some simple research into the impacts of supermarkets and submit your figures in your planning objection.  Such research can also be useful for future applications, to help other campaigners, and to provide useful information about the impacts of supermarkets (see more below).

Information about the retail impact of a new store on other existing stores in the area is always useful, as this is a major area that local authorities should consider. There may be other issues that you wish to collect information to challenge the local Council on, such as traffic flow and pollution levels in the area.

To carry out a retail impact study, you may want to measure the difference in turnover at existing stores (see Burnage case study below) or the difference in footfall of pedestrians visiting various locations on the High Street (see Stalham case study below). To look at changes in turnover, talk to retailers and try to gather as accurate figures as possible. Look at the impact in the few weeks after a store opened. However, if you can get hold of data before the supermarket opened, it is also worth monitoring the changes in the longer term, as it may take months or even years for the full impact to be felt. To look at changes in footfall, find an appropriate place on the High Street and count the number of pedestrians. There may be a previous study that the Council has carried out, as there was in Stalham, which you could use as the basis for your study.

You could try talking to existing retailers in the area, including other large chains, to check on the turnover figures provided by the supermarket. A new supermarket application will have to include an estimate of the current turnover of the stores in the area and the likely impact it will have on that turnover. In some cases, retailers have provided figures of their turnover that are different to those provided with the application. Talking to the retailers in the area may expose inaccuracies.

You can gather local traffic data using local knowledge to spot possible flaws in supermarket submissions. If you know a particular junction is very busy you may question the assumptions of the submission about traffic flows. There may also be doubts about movements in and out of the proposed supermarket's car park - it may be useful to count movements in a similar sized store in a nearby area, to get an idea of how many cars an hour are likely to be going in and out.

The case studies below show some community groups that successfully collected information to challenge developers' submissions:

Burnage retail impact study, Greater Manchester - Manchester Friends of the Earth did four repeated surveys of the impact of a new Tesco supermarket in Burnage. The store opened in September 2005. The group's report, published in summer of 2006, found that there had been a significant problem for other retailers in the area. Three stores had closed down, and other stores reported a major impact, not just in the food retail sector. The report was taken into account by the Planning Inspector who rejected a further Tesco application, in Stretford, in November 2006. To see the report on the impact, which may give you some ideas for conducting your own impact study, and for more information see also the Burnage page and the Stretford page.

Stalham footfall study -Trader Nigel Dowdney knew that traders in Stalham, Norfolk had suffered since Tesco opened in 2002. However, Tesco had claimed that its arrival in Stalham had been positive. In 2006 Nigel Dowdney counted the footfall in Stalham on a given Friday and compared it to figures collected by the Council in 1996. A 'pedestrian flow' check was carried out in the same locations as the Council had done. The results, which were submitted to the Competition Commission, showed that the supermarket's arrival had significantly reduced footfall in Stalham by an average of over 55%. For further information, see the report.

Ickenham - Campaigners at Ickenham Residents Association in challenged traffic impact figures submitted by Tesco for an application at the Master Brewer site in Hillingdon. As a result, Transport for London questioned Tesco's figures at the Public Inquiry in October 2006. Tesco withdrew its application. See the Ickenham Residents Association's website for more information.

It would be very  helpful to other campaigners if information you have collected could be published on the Tescopoly website, so please do contact us.

Ultimately it is the Councillors on the planning committee that make the decision on whether to permit or refuse a development. They are not trained planners and do not have as much of a grasp of planning as the full-time officers making the recommendation. But they have the power to disregard the officer’s recommendation, provided they have sound reasons for doing so.

It is therefore vital that you get your message across to the Councillors on the planning committee. The planners will only listen to technical arguments directly related to planning but Councillors are elected representatives that are more concerned about doing what local people want. A powerful lobbying campaign can be very effective.

Find out who is on the planning committee. A list, along with contact details should be available on the Council website, or you can ask for this by ringing the Council.

Councillors are not permitted to discuss applications prior to determining them but they certainly are allowed to receive information provided by interested parties. Putting together a pack of information to make your case can be very powerful. This could include:

• press clippings highlighting bad practice by the supermarkets
• your own local surveys of traffic, shopkeepers, and local residents
• information about the local area and what makes it special – you could get local school children to each write a short piece about what they like about their local town.

In short, provide anything you think might help your case. Put together a pack and send it to each Councillor. Some will represent areas over the other side of your district so may not know your town very well. The information you provide will help them to picture it and you may be surprised with the number that walk into the planning committee meeting with your pack under their arm.

Also lobby your local MP. Members of Parliament do not like to see local opinions not being heard and can have a powerful influence. Get them on your side, even if it is only on one aspect of your objection. If you can manage it, get your MP to write to the planning committee to say that they will try to get the application called-in if it is granted permission. This will then take the decision out of the planning committee’s hands and place it in the hands of the Planning Inspectorate. But this is not easy as a call-in is only supposed to be used in exceptional circumstances. 

The local authority must consider all the relevant issues (see below) and come to a decision about whether to approve the supermarket planning application. The application will initially be considered by paid planning officers working for the council who will be qualified and experienced planners. They should put together a report on the application based on an assessment of the supporting documents submitted, a comparison with local regional and national planning documents, and a summary of submissions received from third parties (including your objection).
The officers will then report to the council, normally with a recommendation for approval or refusal, and with what conditions to impose on the development. The decision will ultimately be made by those councillors (elected representatives) who sit on the planning committee (sometimes called the development control committee). The decision rests with the elected councillors but they should use the report and recommendations of the planners.

Normally, they adhere to what the planners suggest. However sometimes, including in controversial supermarket applications, the councillors will come to their own conclusions based on the report and vote against the recommendation. They may take into account the fact that there is substantial local opposition. Remember, these people are elected representatives so know it is wise to listen to what local people have to say. It is worth talking to councillors about your concerns with the development as well as submitting a formal objection letter. Click here to see how to lobby the Councillors on the committee.

Whether they go with or against the recommendation of the case officer, the councillors' decision must be based on sound planning reasons and the application's compliance with national, regional and local planning policy. The developer may appeal against the refusal so the council should be able to show that it voted against the development for the correct reasons. Click here for further information on appeals.

To see decision notices from previous decisions against supermarkets, see Tescopoly's guide and Friends of the Earth's parallel briefing.

The Council planning officers and planning committee will consider the application to see if it complies with local planning documents that relate to that specific site, to the town or neighbourhood in which it is located.

Documents relating to town centre land  uses will be relevant (even if the proposal is not in a town centre), as will any relating to other issues that the application brings up, such as traffic and impact on local residents. 

Many planning committee members have limited knowledge of planning policy and are led by the planning officer's recommendation.  This has to be published five working days before the planning meeting and is the first real indication you will get of how the Council view the application.  We suggest that you contact each member of the committee via the committee secretary to explain your reasons for objecting.  Use short sentences and always quote the supporting policy.

Your main objection letter should be addressed to the Case Officer, quoting the planning application number and should be comprehensive and quote the policies again which support your reasons for objecting.  The broad content of your letter has to be included in the planning officer's report.

Your last chance to influence the members of the committee is to ask to speak against the application at the committee meeting. This is usually up to a five minute slot. Not all authorities permit public speaking, so it is important to understand what you are able to do. If you wish to speak, you must notify the Council of your intention in advance.

The application will have to be considered in relation to relevant national planning guidance which includes the following:

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

This was brought into force in March 2012 and represents a radical shift in the detail contained in national planning policy. Previously, national policy was provided by a series of planning policy statements (PPSs), covering a range of matters such as housing, transport, heritage, flooding and retail. The new policy is contained in a single document, which is just 60 pages long. As such, it is far less detailed and prescriptive in terms of the policy it provides, although it still covers broadly the same range of issues.

At the heart of the NPPF is a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’, which should be seen as a golden thread running through all decisions. This means:

- approving development proposals that accord with the development plan without delay; and
- where the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out of date, granting permission unless:
- any adverse effects of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in the NPPF taken as a whole; or
- specific policies in the NPPF indicate development should be restricted.

Town centres
The NPPF seeks to ensure the vitality of town centres at the heart of their communities, a fundamental aim that has not changed. One of the criteria is to “provide customer choice and a diverse retail offer and which reflect the individuality of town centres”. Also there is a requirement to retain existing markets.

The sequential test is also retained, so edge-of-centre sites are only appropriate if suitable and viable town centre sites are not available.  If there are also no edge-of-centre sites, only then can out-of-town locations be considered. Sites should be accessible to the town centre.

The NPPF also states that “applicants…should demonstrate flexibility on issues such as format and scale.” In other words, if there is a site in a town centre and it is of sufficient size to address needs, then it is not possible for a large supermarket to ignore it because they want to build a much bigger store.

If an application is made which is not in accordance with an up-to-date local plan and is more than 2,500sqm (or whatever threshold is set by the Council), then an impact assessment is required. This should assess the impact of the proposals on the vitality and viability of the town centre. This includes impact on local consumer choice and trade in the town centre and wider area, up to five years from the time the application is made. If it is likely to have a significant adverse impact, then the application should be refused.

Sustainable transport

Plans and decisions should ensure developments that generate significant movement are located where the need to travel will be minimised and the use of sustainable transport modes can be maximised.

Meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change

New developments should comply with adopted Local Plan policies on local requirements for decentralised energy supply unless it can be demonstrated by the applicant, given the type of development and its design, that this is not feasible or viable.

Local planning authorities should ensure flood risk is not increased elsewhere and only consider development appropriate in areas at risk of flooding where it can be shown that development is appropriately flood resilient and resistant.

The Environment Agency is a statutory consultee on any application so always review its opinion. If it places an objection that cannot be satisfactorily dealt with, then the application must be refused.

Historic environment

This covers applications and their impact on the historic environment (e.g. listed buildings, conservation areas, archaeology). If the application in question will have an impact on the historic environment, you can use the NPPF to argue against it. The more significant the heritage asset, the greater the protection it is afforded.

Other material considerations

The planning system requires applications be determined in accordance with the ‘development plan’ (i.e. national policy in the NPPF and the local plan) unless material considerations dictate otherwise. So what represents a material consideration?

Common examples include:

• Case law where a precedent has been set which could reasonably be applied in this case.

• The planning history of the site. The Council should hold a record of all previous applications on the site and it may be that a similar application was refused previously and the reasons could be applicable today.

• Traffic, parking and accessibility. Some of these issues may not be fully dealt with, so there could be an opportunity to make a case around these issues.

  • Viability. You can object if you believe that the development is not likely to go ahead because the developer cannot afford to build it. This is rare in the case of a supermarket but all developers have a profit margin below which it does not make economic sense to build.

• Planning contributions. If the development should be making contributions towards facilities that reduce its impact but does not want to, then this could be because they are too expensive. Insisting that these contributions are sought could render the development unviable so it should be refused. 

After the decision - application approved

Although the retailer can appeal if a decision is made against them, members of the public do not have a third party right of appeal against a decision approving a supermarket.
The Council should have made the decision in favour of the retailer based on sound planning reasons as set down in local and national planning guidance. If you feel this has not been the case, you should say so

If the application is controversial, conflicts with the development plan, or is a paritcularly large development, there may be a case for it to be considered by the Secretary of State. You can write asking for the application to be “called-in” by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Government minister responsible for planning.

To ask for an application to be called-in, you should write both to the Secretary of State and to your regional Government Office (e.g. London Government Office, Government Office for the North West) asking them to refer the application to the Secretary of State. If the Secretary of State does call in the application, there will be a Public Inquiry. A Planning Inspector will report to the Secretary of State, whose office will make the final decision on the application

Councillors or local MPs may want to write to the Secretary of State and Government Office asking for a call-in, as well.

Click here for more information on how you can get involved in a Public Inquiry if an application is called in.

There may be a case for a judicial review if you feel that the Council has acted unlawfully in approving the application. This procedure is a form of Court proceedings and can be used when there is no further right of appeal. Under a judicial review, a judge would review the legality of the decision. The judge would consider only its legality, not its merit, and would be more concerned with the processes through which the decision was made rather than the decision itself. For more information on judicial reviews, please see this Friends of the Earth briefing.

After the decision - application refused

 Like the process for an application considered by the local Council, you can make your opinions heard in the appeals/call-in process. One difference is that this process is often longer, and can involve more formal channels for getting involved.

You can submit objections in writing to the Planning Inspector on the application. Don’t forget that whether the application is being considered by the local Council or the Planning Inspectorate, the decision should be based on sound planning reasons and the relevant national, regional and local guidance. This means that you can make your voice heard on the application at any stage, and that the more you connect your objections with the relevant guidance, the stronger your objection will be. The Planning Inspector will have more time at his/her disposal than many local Councils, so the process is a real opportunity to consider all the details and scrutinise the application and its supporting documents. However, unless you have additional points to make, your original submission should suffice.

If there is a Public Inquiry, you may be able to go along and express your opinions as members of the public. You will need to tell the inquiry that you want to make a case, and will usually have to make a formal objection to the Council. This should state your objection but can state that your full case will be given later.

If you want to get involved in a public inquiry, please see Friends of the Earth's guide to Public Inquiries.

Contact us and we will be able to put you in touch with other local campaigners who have got involved in an Inquiry.

If a developer appeals a decision that goes against it, the application will move for consideration to a higher level of government. In England and Wales, it will be considered by the Planning Inspectorate, an independent government body. In England, the Planning Inspectorate serves the Department of Communities and Local Government, which is the government department that deals with planning. In Wales, it serves the National Assembly for Wales.
In Scotland, appeals are dealt with by the Inquiry Reporters Unit, a part of the Scottish Executive. The Ministers appoint a reporter. The reporter either makes a decision or report backs to the Minister who makes the decision. See the Scottish Executive planning website for more information.

In Northern Ireland appeals are dealt with by the Planning Appeals Commission, an independent body. See its website for more information.

If there is an appeal in England, a Planning Inspector appointed by the Planning Inspectorate will look into the application and make a decision or recommendation based on its compliance with national, local and regional planning documents. For smaller stores, the inspector’s decision will hold. For larger stores, the inspector will make a recommendation and that recommendation will then either be upheld or rejected by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

The appeal process offers another chance for the public to have their say. Click here for information on how to do so. The process usually includes a Public Inquiry, a series of hearings in public held by the Inspector with the local Council, the applicant, and some third parties. This will be a stage in the Inspector’s consideration of the application. He or she will then report on the application and make a decision, or make a recommendation which the Secretary of State will ultimately act on.

If the Inspector believes that the local Council has made the right decision in refusing the application, then he or she will dismiss the appeal or recommend to the Secretary of State that it be dismissed. However, if the Inspector disagrees with the local Council's decision, he or she will allow the appeal or recommend to the Secretary of State that it is allowed (in the case of larger schemes). In the latter case, the final decision will then rest with the Secretary of State.

A developer can also appeal against a failure on the part of the local Council to consider the application within the time limit (usually 13 weeks). In these cases, the Planning Inspector will make the decision on the application, potentially involving a Public Inquiry. The local Council can give its opinion on the application through this process.

Please see the page on getting involved in Public Inquiry processes.

If the supermarket opens

If a supermarket has opened in your area or is about to open, there are still things that you can do:

  • Promote positive alternatives and support your local shops.
  • Inform people in the area about the problems caused by supermarkets. Tell your neighbours, family and friends about some of the issues discussed on the Tescopoly website. You could also distribute Tescopoly leaflets and action cards - please contact us for more information at
  • Campaign against other new supermarket applications in your area, or lend your support to another local campaign. It is more than likely that there is another local supermarket campaign somewhere near you, or that there is an application that you can start a campaign against!
  • Keep an eye on the new store, to make sure that the conditions imposed aren’t being broken. Also make sure that any promises made by the developers are being fulfilled. Contact the Council if you think these are being broken.
  • Get involved in your local Council's forward planning process on retailing. Local Councils put together Local Development Frameworks (LDFs). These processes have to include formal community involvement, and you can try to get better retail policies included. This will make it easier for the council to scrutinise future applications and ensure that only the best type of development takes place.
  • Monitor the impact of the new store, for example on local retailers or traffic. If you know that a store is about to be built, measure current levels of traffic or turnover figures at local shops. Once the shop has been built, see how the figures compare straight away and after several months,as this will be useful for future campaigns. A campaign against Tesco proposals in Stretford, Greater Manchester, submitted evidence on the impact of a nearby store in Burnage, which was considered by the Inspector deciding on the application.