A little under four years ago the deputy leader of Birmingham City Council, Paul Tilsley, ordered an inquiry into what he called the “black arts” of supermarket chains buying huge land banks to kill off competition.
Singling out Tesco, he claimed that Britain’s largest supermarket group was intent on expanding so quickly in south Birmingham that it would soon be able to “knock out the competition”.
The inquiry was conducted remarkably quickly, and within two months the council, and presumably Coun Tilsley, were able to satisfy themselves that Tesco was a force for good after all.
A report to the council cabinet pointed out that, far from putting small shops out of business, firms like Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s bring “genuine and significant” regeneration benefits to local shopping centres.
The report went on to suggest that superstores usually give far greater choice to local communities and in many cases trigger further retail development.
Not only that, applications for superstores are always accompanied by substantial gains from Section 106 planning agreements, pouring millions of pounds into improving roads, public transport and community facilities.
Cynics might say, and indeed did say in 2006, that the inquiry was only ever going to have one result since the council was actively in the process of selling land it owned in Hodge Hill and Yardley to Tesco.
Four years on the Yardley Tesco saga, which involves replacing the 1960s Swan shopping centre with a superstore, is finally drawing to a close.
Liberal Democrat councillors and Yardley MP John Hemming have been campaigning in favour of the Tesco scheme, which puts them at odds with some community groups who would prefer to see a mix of smaller independent shops in the style of the Swan shopping centre.
The row has been elevated from the usual planning dispute status by a lively argument involving businessman Jeremy Knight Adams whose refusal willingly to sell land to Tesco is holding up construction of the superstore.
Mr Knight Adams contends that a rival proposal he is promoting, for a mixed-use community based scheme, is a better bet for Yardley and is supported by local people. He has offered to sell his land to Tesco, but only if the company agrees to implement an “improved” scheme.
The government has now accepted a planning inspector’s recommendation that the city council’s attempt to compulsorily purchase the land owned by Mr Knight Adams should be approved, allowing Tesco to proceed.
Any other outcome was unlikely. Tesco’s proposal has planning permission, while Mr Knight Adam’s scheme does not. It is indeed possible that the mixed-use scheme promoted by Mr Knight Adams finds favour with some local residents, but he is not in a position to build anything.
Tesco is undoubtedly regarded as a big, bad giant by many communities, even by some Liberal Democrats in Birmingham, but the fact of the matter is that a modern superstore must surely be a far more attractive proposition for local people than the drab, outdated Swan centre.