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Tesco: 'Planners stifled our design'

The debate over standards in supermarket design escalated last week when the boss of the UK's largest grocer appeared to blame planners for forcing him into accepting a 'compromise' design for a major new store.

Tesco chief executive Terry Leahy spoke out last week about the planning system following vociferous local criticism of designs for an edge-of-town store in the sensitive East Yorkshire market town of Beverley.He was particularly concerned that modifications have been forced on the design team to satisfy the council's demands for 'traditional' features. 'In my own opinion I prefer other designs which we have used successfully in other locations, ' Leahy said. 'The local authority would only give support to a more conservative design with more 'traditional' features . . . whenever a new building incorporates decoration to reflect local architecture the result can look like something of a compromise and opinions as to whether it has been successful do vary.'

This approach has angered the local Civic Society. 'We thought store design had moved on, ' said spokesman and local architect Jonathan Hobson.

'Tesco seems to think it's just a matter of tarting up the elevations but it's far more fundamental than that. It needs someone absolutely top notch to design this. Money is not a problem for Tesco, they could employ whoever they want.' Hobson also attacked the design by Harrogate practice Smith Smalley Architects for failing to adapt its entrances and facades to the urban fabric of Beverley.

But Tesco said it will stick with its architects despite the protests, and this week met with project architect Roger Whitfield to discuss 'major alterations' to the design. The scheme has outline, but not detailed planning permission.

Whitfield said the planning authority has tightly controlled the design. 'Tesco would rather have had a purely contemporary design but it's a question of what the council members want, ' he said.

East Riding strategic development control manager John Crook confirmed that the planning committee has called for greater use of 'brick and traditional materials' and for new features such as bay windows 'to dress up the box a little bit'.

The row has caught the eye of CABE, which is so concerned about a return to poor supermarket design that it has asked its design panel to scrutinise the plans today.

'There is a problem [following the revision of PPG6 restricting out of town supermarket development] that supermarket companies are trying to put designs for out-of-town sites in town centres, ' chief executive Jon Rouse said. 'We must beware of supermarkets using a veneer of decent projects to escape attention elsewhere.'

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