When Wal-Mart took control of the Asda grocery chain several months ago, the United Kingdom became the second largest international beachhead for the retail conglomerate. The Asda takeover brought 229 existing stores into the Walmartian brood, second in numbers only to Mexico, which has 437 Wal-Mart stores. The Asda deal made British Wal-Mart’s outnumber Canadian Wal-Marts (160) and German (95). Just as vigorously as Wal-Mart moved into the UK, just a vigorously the administration of Prime Minister Tony Blair is assuring Brits the the government will “not relax” planning laws which make it difficult for large retailers to build outside of traditional town centers. The Blair assurances of no special deals comes in the wake of a recent story in the British press that Wal-Mart was planning to buy up shopping centers on the outskirts of town, assume tenant leases, and proceed to tear down existing shops and replace them with huge Wal-Marts. Rubbish, according to the Minister for House, Planning and Construction. Minister Nick Raynsford said it woud be “quite inappropriate” to let down the planning rules, known at PPG 6, for one retailer. The Minister reiterated that allowing huge out of town developments by any retailer would undermine the government’s attempts to promote urban renewal.
One wonders is British officials have read the Wal-Mart record in America for closing down “old” stores and building larger supercenters within the shadow of the old buildings. One also wonders if consumers in the UK are familiar with Wal-Mart’s penchant for leaving communities in a vulnerable economic condition, as illustrated in the Taos and Warr Acres stories below.