Tesco’s extensive stocking of non-food items in the new part of its Lerwick shop appears to have been the result of an oversight by Shetland Islands Council, it has emerged.
A restriction on white goods and other items such as books or car products sold in the South Road store only applies to the area covered by the original building.
It had been hoped an agreement made when the store was owned by Safeway to limit the area of floor space given for the sale of non-food, or “comparison” items to 185 square metres would continue under Tesco even after the extension was opened.
However planning officials have placed no conditions on exactly what the supermarket giant puts on the new shelves in its extension.
The oversight came to light this week after a statement was released from the council which said the development complied with planning conditions – much to the disbelief of the Lerwick Town Centre Association, which has long been crying foul over the supermarket giant’s plans.
The council’s executive director of infrastructure, Gordon Greenhill, said a condition should have been made on comparison goods sold in the extension.
“Tesco came with the planning application for the extension, which was put to the [planning] board,” he said. “They had a retail impact analysis done, in which they said they would not be selling non-convenience goods.
“The board accepted that, and planners recommended grant. In the interim, Tesco went to their customers and said, ‘what do you want?’ They told them a different story, and they said they wanted to see the extension used for various other things.
“They can do that because there is no condition limiting the amount of floor space [given to non-essential items] in the extension. The only condition relates to the original footprint of the building. There is a misconception that there was a restriction applied to the extension. With hindsight it would have been prudent to put a condition on.”
A list of conditions attached to the application on the council’s website gives no mention to the types of items stocked in the store.
Planning official John Holden said the biggest change during the application’s history was a decision to relocate a planned staff area. That was deemed not significant enough to warrant a fresh application to the planning board.
Planning chairman Frank Robertson told The Shetland Times he was only made aware of the situation on Tuesday. He said he could not comment from a “planning or legal point of view”, adding he would have to meet staff at the planning department.
Asked if he felt the SIC had effectively been out-smarted by Tesco he said: “I can’t comment.”
He said he understood the concerns of small independent retail operators in Commercial Street.
“I sympathise with them because they have always kept me in the loop regarding this, but I can’t comment on the legality of this application until I’ve had further discussions with planning officers.”
LTCA chairman Laurence Smith held urgent talks with planning officials yesterday after claiming the news was “totally contrary to our understanding of the whole situation, and the correspondence we’ve had from the SIC over this issue”.
He said the Lerwick local plan would prevent Tesco from simply carpeting their extension with non-food items, but added an impact study submitted as part of its application had simply been accepted at face value.
“When Tesco applied to do the extension they made it clear in black and white it was for sale of convenience goods only. As part of the exercise they were required to submit an impact study.
“They did that saying Don Leslie’s sells a few sweeties and the Wine Shop sells a few cans of beer. The whole thing was a joke. The first thing is they have submitted an application to do something in black and white, and now they are doing something different.
“That’s contrary to what they applied for. The second thing is their impact study has no relevance at all.”
Manager of the Tesco store Paul Clelland said he had nothing to add to previous comments, but he was not surprised to hear the council had given Tesco the all-clear on planning grounds.
“Our understanding has always been that we are working within the terms of the planning consent. That’s been stirred up by a minority of people. But we continue to focus on delivering for our customers.”
• While the extended Tesco is proving a burden for small retailers it is at least popular with prospective employees. Over 100 local people have applied for jobs at the now bigger store.
Thirty new full and part-time jobs came up for grabs since the extension was built. The jobs were advertised through the store and the recruitment process has now finished.
Mr Clelland said the number of applications was overwhelming. “The quality of applicants was fantastic and I am delighted with my new team. We are currently preparing for the re-launch of the new store on Monday 2nd August, and look forward to continuing our active role in the local community.
“All new recruits are currently on their company induction, and will then go on a basic training programme before being given training specific to their department to ensure that they are fully trained prior to the opening.”
An official relaunch will be held for the store on 2nd August, during which Tesco has pledged to make a £1,000 donation to a local good cause. Complementary cake, champagne and orange juice will be available for customers.