January 23 2022

Taking on Tesco: planning law, local democracy & PR spin

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Taking on Tesco: planning law, local democracy & PR spin

At the end of last year Tesco announced that it was going to re-submit its application for an out of centre supermarket in Holmfirth, writes Margaret Dale of Keep Holmfirth Special. We quickly realised that mounting a campaign in opposition to the plan would not be the right approach. Pic by foilman.

  •  You can read about this month’s decision to reject Tesco’s plans for a superstore in the West Yorkshire HERE.
  • Keep Holmfirth Special is a group of local residents set up to promote the town and the surrounding Holme Valley- see HERE.
  • ‘In Britain’s longest running comedy show, Last of the Summer Wine, life in the picturesque Yorkshire town of Holmfirth revolved around lost ferrets and wrinkled stockings,’ wrote Zoe Wood in the Guardian in March about the campaign (‘Summer Wine town torn apart by supermarket planning drama’). ‘But the nostalgic comedy has been replaced by a gritty modern drama as locals fight over Tesco‘s plans to build a superstore it is feared could put one of the country’s oldest independent retail co-operatives out of business.’

‘Our role is to keep the village’s heart beating. It is very difficult to see how we could survive this.’
Mark Lewis, chairman of the Wooldale Co-Operative Society (founded in 1886) who explained last year that the group made a ‘tiny’ profit out its three stores.


Margaret Dale writes: We are not opposed to supermarkets per se – or Tesco, in particular – but the proposed 25,000 sq feet store was in the wrong place. The location would create an intolerable traffic load on local residential streets and being only a kilometre from the town centre would threaten existing shops and businesses. We also depend on tourism and believe that the supermarket would detract from the area’s attractiveness.

Red box marks the spot: proposed site of the store as seen from across the valley

The group decided a two-fold response: to address the application on planning law grounds and be ready for the Tesco PR machine.

So we got together and raised funds to pay for the expertise we could not source locally. We assessed the Tesco application and submitted a comprehensive report opposing the application on planning groups.

We also investigated the PR approach used by Tesco and other supermarkets to drive through the development of unwanted supermarkets.  We easily identified a pattern from the experiences of other towns.

This is described below.

The logic behind the PR approach:

  • Planning decisions are made by councillors
  • Councillors are elected by the people
  • Councillors should follow to public opinion

This is how it works: Supermarkets recruit local supporters to act as the ‘voice’ of the people and to claim to represent the majority of residents.

Mock referendum are organised through:

  • Facebook and web sites (‘We want Tesco Portree’ or ‘A new supermarket in Sheringham’)
  • Fliers and newspaper articles featuring local supporting residents who are supported, encouraged and helped to write letters to the press and post the ‘right’ messages on Facebook
  • Cards for people to complete at exhibitions
  • Newspaper web site polls
  • Pre-paid ‘voting cards’

‘Reinventing community consultation’
There is no control over how many times an individual is able to ‘vote’ and there is no proof that ‘voters’ are individual, local residents. So one person could ‘vote’ 35 times and one person could pretend to be 35 people each ‘voting’ once.

These mock polls result in claims that the majority of the residents want the supermarket and imply that councillors should bow to the will of the people.

Supermarkets use PR companies that specialise in this area of work such as IPB whose consultants ‘identify and mobilise the silent majority so that the decision makers feel comfortable they are making the right choice’.  IPB were finalists in the CIPR community relations award in 2011 for ‘reinventing community consultation’ for Tesco.  A PR company called Pagoda worked for Waitrose in Helensburgh. It features as a case study on Pagoda’s website (‘the last town in Scotland without a supermarket’).  The development was highly controversial – read this BBC report HERE – although according to the Pagoda website ‘1250 people responded to the consultation exercise – 96% were positive about the proposal’.

Planning committees are meant to make decisions in accordance with National Planning Policy and on planning grounds.  Committee members are expected to step out of their role as ward councillors and make longterm decisions that are interests of the whole community.  Yet supermarkets find subtle ways to play on their position as elected representatives and pressurise them to vote in favour of their proposals.

The views of local residents feature in the determination of planning decisions as a material consideration and should have a proper place in the decision making.

Here’s a question: Is the approach used by supermarkets an abuse of public consultation and a manipulation of public opinion?  If the answer to this question is yes, we must find a more robust and impartial way of enabling the views of local residents to be canvased and reported to planning committees.

Anyhow, the Tesco application was refused by Kirklees Planning Committee on 18th July on highways grounds.  Tesco also failed to satisfy the sequential test.  This was despite the reported majority of local people being in support.

The planning officers were obliged to report the number of people who had expressed their support and objections to the plan, as material considerations.  However, they were well aware of the dangers of simply counting submissions and drew attention to the divisions that had been created in the community by the approach.

Keep Holmfirth Special continues to work with the other groups in the town to regenerate the local economy and encourage more people into local shops. We also wait to see what Tesco will do next – will there be an appeal and if not what will the site’s owners do with the 2.4 hectares brown field site?

4 responses to “Taking on Tesco: planning law, local democracy & PR spin”

  1. Tim Radcliffe says:

    This woman needs psychiatric help, she obviously thinks that all the supporters of the plan are as devious and underhanded as herself and her fellow cronies. I can assure anyone who wants to listen that non of us supporters were “Recruited” and that nobody in support received anything from Tesco, we simply want the town to move on and give the majority of residents what they clearly want. If she wants to gauge the true feeling in the Holme Valley residents she should go out and speak to them, but the reality of the situation is that she and many of the KHS people live relatively close to the proposed development therefore I think the acronym NIMBY can apply.

    • Twilson2012 says:

      “Judge other’s by their own standards” comes to mind. As for “mock referendum’s” well KHS seem to know all about that with their earlier stunt in trying to cajole local residents to a “vote no to Tesco” campaign, after all, they seem to be the experts in this field!!!!!!
      I would be interested in seeing what demonstrable evidence and measures KHS have and are undertaking to aid and “re-generate” the local economy??? From where I’m sitting, they have clearly not done a lot and nor a good job, judging by shops closing by the minute and tourists/visitors diminishing in their droves!!!!!!!!!!!
      What we are now left with is a sad and lonely town dying on it’s feet.
      Well done KHS you must be proud!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Sally Duncan says:

    Loving the red box on the photo blocking out the eyesore that is there now, the derelict waste land of broken concrete and weeds. Development would only improve the view long term. Yes the big question what will happen to the site, we already know that it is not viable for building houses and the cost of cleaning the site requires a major investment… so my guess would be nothing will happen with the site and it will continue to be a blot on the landscape.

    I would also like to take this opportunity to echo Tim Radcliffe and refute the slanderous accusations that supporters of the Tesco development were ‘recruited’ or given incentives – do not judge others by your standards comes to mind.

  3. Julie Anderson says:

    It is very disappointing that this propaganda is contuining- despite the results of ALL the independent polls undertaken by the local newspaper, letters to the council and the reults of the Holme Valley voices poll- a group of independent local residents who are in favour of the Tesco plans to keep holmfirth alive ALL stating a huge majority in favour of the supermarket being built on a contaimated waste site. The council planning dept admitted the site was leaking harmful waste and would cost any developer a fortune to bring back into safe use. Unlike the Holmfirth against Tesco organisation or Keep holmfirth Sepcial- as it is now re-named, the supporters of the plans are not funded by any of the local businesses, or any supermarket. It is regrettable that KHS seek to dismiss the genuine views of our fellow Holme Valley residents as a Tesco flawed PR exercise and is a measure of this organsation’s sheer arrogance.

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