Ed Miliband waded into the debate over the “Tesco-isation” of Britain’s high streets by warning that the growth of supermarkets was changing the face of the country.
The Labour leader’s intervention comes just days after riots in Bristol ostensibly over the opening of a small Tesco in an inner-city area of the city.
A protest against the new store on Cheltenham Road – close to St Paul’s, where the Thatcher-era riots took place 30 years ago – has led to clashes with the police on two recent occasions.
Mr Miliband said that “local people should have more of a say over what happens on their high street” and said that Labour would make the issue a “priority” in its wider policy review.
The Labour leader did not refer directly to Bristol but said people were unhappy that the character of their local high street was changing and that they had “no power against big corporations in this country”.
Asked if he would take action to prevent the “Tesco-isation of the high street”, Mr Miliband replied that he would. “I think people do worry about all of the high streets looking the same,” he said.
Tesco has about 30 per cent of the British grocery market. It has 2,715 shops in the UK and plans to open 208 in the coming year.
The British Retail Consortium warned that trying to limit any particular stores could threaten the fragile economic recovery.
“The key thing is to have successful businesses in units that keep town centres vibrant and keep visitors coming,” it said. “The danger is if you restrict the big companies too much, you increase the number of vacant lots and that damages other businesses.”
Mr Miliband is not the first opposition leader to criticise big supermarkets. David Cameron in 2008 held out the prospect of cuts in tax and red tape for smaller competitors.
The Tory leader also attacked the “habit” of supermarkets that squeezed the margins of suppliers. As prime minister, however, he has yet to take any action that would jeopardise their dominant position.
Mr Miliband’s comments are unlikely to endear him to Lord Sainsbury, the groceries tycoon who has given more than £13m to Labour during the past decade.