Growth of the 'big four' supermarkets

Maps illustrating overall increase of the top four supermarkets across the UK by postcode from 2004 to 2010

Hundreds more supermarkets are to open across the UK after the 'big four' stores won planning permission to extend their chains during the past two years, BBC research has found.

Approved 'big four' stores*: Top places

'Big four' supermarket signs

*Successful planning applications 1 Nov 08-1 Nov 10. Source: BBC

1. London

110

2. Birmingham

15

3. Leicester

12

=4. Bristol

11

=4. Leeds

11

6. Durham

10

=7. Edinburgh

8

=7. N Ireland

8

=9. Liverpool

7

=9. Manchester

7

=9. Wiltshire

7

Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons and Asda won permission for 480 stores in England, 67 in Scotland, 22 in Wales and eight in Northern Ireland, according to a study by Panorama and the BBC news teams around the country.

Tesco had the most planning applications approved in the two years up to 1 November 2010 - a total of 392 and more than three times the number approved for Sainsbury's, which had 111. Morrisons succeeded with 41 applications and Asda with 33.

The research for a Panorama special programme, Supermarkets: What price cheap food?, also found that London had the most new stores approved - a total of 110 - followed by Birmingham, with 15, and Leicester, with 12.

Separate Ordnance Survey research, analysed for Panorama, shows how the number of 'big four' supermarket stores in Britain has increased during the past six years. In certain postcodes the number of new stores has risen by more than 700%.

Birmingham has seen the number of Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons and Asda stores increase from 19 to 104, while the number of 'big four' supermarkets in Nottingham has risen from 12 to 82.

To obtain its figures on supermarket planning applications, researchers from Panorama and the BBC teams asked local authorities across the UK how many planning applications had been approved for the biggest four supermarkets over the two years from 1 November 2008 to 1 November 2010. Not all councils responded.

Authorities were asked for the number of new store and advertising applications. Advertising applications are made when a building has already been in use as a shop and a supermarket requests permission to change the signage.

Only advertising applications that would result in the opening of a new supermarket have been included in the data. The data does not show how many supermarkets have been built or are yet to be built, nor how many have closed.

The number of successful applications noted are for all sizes of store - from the smaller high street stores to big out-of-town supermarkets.

BBC Panorama's Supermarkets: What price cheap food? will be shown on BBC One on Wednesday 22 December at 2100 GMT and will be available on BBC iPlayer.

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