Chief executive Sir Terry Leahy says the supermarket will continue to develop new stores despite fears of market downturn

Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy has pledged to press on with the supermarket’s development programme in spite of the worsening credit crunch.

Speaking at a ‘Movers and Shakers’ networking breakfast on Friday, Leahy said that the supermarket’s property portfolio, estimated at £10bn, would allow it to continue to invest in its development arm.

He said: “We will carry on with our development programme. It is very important to carry on through the property cycle and to continue to invest. If you can survive a market downturn, it is a time of opportunity."

The financial slowdown in the credit markets is expected to hit retailers hard as it impacts on customers’ confidence and their ability to borrow money.

But Tesco has just committed to taking on the US market, pledging to open 200 ‘Fresh and Easy’ convenience stores before February 2009.

I want to see more resources and speedier decisions in planning

Sir Terry Leahy

Leahy, who was earlier this year named the most powerful non-elected person in the UK, used the event to call for the planning regime to be streamlined.

"Schemes can often take a while - several years in some cases - so that's why we have a long development pipeline,” he said. “I want to see more resources and speedier decisions in planning."

Leahy also said that functionality should take priority over aesthetics in supermarket design. He said: “As with all of these things, the experience of the customer should come first. The priority is, does the building work?”

However, he said that Tesco was committed to improving green design and construction technique. Tesco superstores in Wick and Shrewsbury had used timber and sedum in their construction, he said, and stores were using CHP and low-energy refridgeration systems.

He brushed off talk of Tesco reaching a point where it will slow down its expansion programme, saying: “Everyone in Britain loves a good loser... but they love a good winner even better.”