Tesco went to great lengths to secure permission for a superstore in Darlington
. It offered to build Darlington Borough Council a new town hall worth £14m, to redevelop a site that had, by common agreement, become something of an embarrassment and to build 130 apartments. Tesco's added-value offering for its Darlington development was extraordinarily generous; an awesome demonstration of determination to break into a town already served by Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons. Had it gone ahead, the Tesco store would have dwarfed the opposition and that is exactly what the company wanted. And after three years of talks, Tesco bosses must have been confident of success, but they had badly miscalculated. The offer of a new town hall -and the prospect of local elections next year -made it impossible for the Labour-controlled council to ignore opposition. When it became obvious there was unprecedented resistance
to the idea (even the council's own Mori poll found 76 per cent of people were against it) Labour leader John Williams pulled the plug and said "It has not been a waste of time. The Tesco proposal was a significant option for what has been a problem site for the council and for Darlington. We now need to look ahead and explore alternative options for the Feethams site." Councillor Williams said he hoped to develop the site with plans that "will safeguard the future of our historic markets, so that Darlington will have the thriving, attractive and unique town centre we all want to see." Alan Coultas, part of the Say No to Tesco campaign, said: "During the campaign, people showed a great passion for their town and that they care about it. They want to be consulted properly, listened to, and have a voice in decision making. Local democracy is the winner."
Tesco, meanwhile, is this morning licking its wounds after three wasted years. Of course, it may still press ahead and, assuming the plan is turned down, launch an appeal that could cost the council hundreds of thousands of pounds if it were to succeed. Last night, the company was keeping its options open and its opinions to itself.