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.