Test Valley Borough Council has dismissed claims that the consultants employed to assess the effects of a proposed Tesco store for Romsey have too close a relationship with the retail giants.

Last week, we reported that a study by Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners (NLP) had shown that plans for a 35,000 sq ft Tesco on the Broadlands Estate, just south of the bypass, was unlikely to harm trade in the town centre.

Reader, Rosie Groves, of Braishfield, emailed the Advertiser after finding a page on the NLP website which stated: “Our role involves assisting Tesco to deliver new and extended stores across the UK.”

“How under any interpretation of the word can this be described as ‘independent’?” she asked A trawl of the internet showed that NLP had acted for Tesco in a number of planning applications.

Borough councillor and town mayor, Mark Cooper, commented: “I would suggest that to the ‘man in the street’, this is a close and prejudiced relationship which skews NLP’s advice to TVBC in favour of Tesco.”

However, TVBC issued the following statement: “When the council appoints consultants, it is mindful of potential conflicts of interest, particularly where specialist advice is needed and there are a limited number of consultants with the appropriate expertise.

“Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners (NLP) were appointed in 2007 to advise the council on retail issues as part of the review of the Local Plan.

“They have been commissioned subsequently on a number of occasions to update the work to take account of issues such as new population and expenditure forecasts. “Tesco announced their interest in developing a store in Romsey in early 2012. The council retained NLP to review the retail assessment submitted by Tesco’s own consultants, given their wealth of experience and knowledge of the retail issues in southern Test Valley/Romsey.

“NLP act for both the public and private sector and have clear demarcation between the two arms of the business. The consultant acting for Test Valley works in their public sector team.

“His team does not act for Tesco, nor are NLP acting on behalf of Tesco for their Romsey planning application. Indeed, our NLP consultant has appeared at planning inquiries on behalf of opponents to Tesco applications.

“All new projects at NLP are subject to comprehensive checks for conflicts of interest as part of their ISO 9001 quality assurance procedures.”