Supermarket expansion plans and the effect on the county

As new plans are unveiled for a supermarket in Stalham to erect a marquee to sell gardening furniture and summer essentials, reporter TRACEY GRAY looks at how supermarkets across Norfolk and Suffolk are expanding their range of products and size of their stores and the impact it is having on local communities and traders.

It is impossible to walk into a big supermarket these days and find the only thing on the shelves is food - over the years more and more of the big stores have been expanding the range of what they offer branching out into non-food areas selling everything from homewares to clothing.

And increasingly supermarket bosses are applying for planning permission to increase the size of existing stores in a bid to house those extra items.

Tesco has expanded its range of non-food goods with the opening of various Tesco Extra stores which stock a wide range of products including electrical items, clothing, gardening equipment and books and children's toys.

Other big supermarket chains have also expanded the range of items they sell, Asda has introduced its 'George' clothing range and even at one point, had a store in The Mall, Norwich, devoted entirely to clothes sales.

Sainsbury's also has its own TU clothing range and has also branched out into selling gardening equipment, music and DVDs among other non-food items.

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But, as this week it was revealed that bosses of the north Norfolk Tesco store in Stalham have applied for planning permission to erect a marquee in their car park selling gardening equipment and summer essentials, what sort of impact are the expansions having on local traders and communities?

Chris Hull a former Norfolk County Councillor and a member of the anti Tesco campaign group Tescopoly, said: 'The stores always say they draw in custom to the neighbourhood shops, but it is my experience that rarely happens, there is very little draw down to other shops and the wider the range of products a big store sells, the more local traders are going to effected, it is a worrying trend.'

In June 2009 Sainsbury's asked shareholders for �445m to spend on store expansion as part of a �2bn strategy to see it add around 2.5 million sq ft in store space. It was reported that around 40pc of its new space would come from store extensions allowing it to boost significantly its in store non-food ranges including clothing and homewares under its Tu label. In summer 2009 Sainsbury's also launched a non-food offering online, selling 8,000 products from kitchenware to furniture.

Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: 'Out of town shopping and internet shopping are increasingly putting pressure on town centres. Tourism and attracting visitors is key to Norfolk's economy and part of the visitor experience is our excellent independent retail sector which is increasingly under threat.'

In Norfolk and Suffolk there have been numerous applications for store expansions over the past few years, including an extension of the Sainsbury's store at the Longwater Retail Park in Costessey, to sell homeware and home entertainment departments, a pizza bar, TU clothing range and environmentally-friendly toilets, and the Sainsbury's store in Queens Road which obtained permission to provide 139 square metres of extra floorspace.

Tesco has also submitted store expansion plans, which are still under consideration, to increase its store in Caister by a third of the size and plans to expand Watton's Memorial Way Tesco store to almost double its size, were given the thumbs up in November 2008 and work on the store is now set to begin in May. The plans will see the size of the store increased by 909 sqm from 1,112 sqm to 2,201 sqm. The extension will be built on the existing car park with Tesco-owned buildings to the north-east of the site demolished.

Tesco has also in recent years expanded its Kingston Road store in Dereham with its sales floor space expanding from about 50,000 sq ft to around 70,000 sq ft, making it one of the biggest Tesco shops in the region.

In Great Yarmouth in 2005 it was revealed that a Tesco Extra store was to be opened up in its Pasteur Road store which had opened in 2002. Supermarket bosses wanted to add a mezzaine floor to increase the range of non-food products.

But while some fear the expansions of the stores will hurt small independent traders, others have said they believe it will benefit them.

Wayland Chamber of Commerce chair Salena Dawson, speaking about the Watton plans, said: 'It is going to create a lot of jobs for young people and that is a positive, also the clothes it will be selling are not going to disadvantage the high street, they are affordable, quick wear clothes.'

But she added their one concern was the introduction of a pharmacy as there was already a pharmacy service within the community, and she said she had written to Tesco with her concerns about that.

A spokeswoman for Tesco said: 'The reason we're applying to expand in Caister is because customers tell us they want a better service. Many say they like what we do, but they sometimes can't get the products they want and often the aisles are cramped and difficult to get around, especially at weekends. We expand our stores because we want to maintain the quality of service that our customers expect.'

A spokesman for Sainsbury's added: 'Whilst we are a primarily a food retailer, sales of our complementary non-food ranges are growing three times the rate of food and many customers tell us they like the convenience of buying general merchandise at the same time as shopping for food.

'In our experience, by turning our supermarkets into more destination stores we bring more shoppers into the local area which increases footfall to benefit of other local traders.'