Save our Sheringham - Say NO to Tesco

Friday, January 19, 2007

Talking Tesco or Talking Nonsense?

You may have seen the earlier blog entry about the Talking Tesco site which refers to submissions to the Competition Commission. On its site it states that "Some of these specific comments are inaccurate and misleading, and we are providing a series of short notes in order to put the record straight." One of those it attempts to correct is that about Sheringham. Below is the letter I sent to Tesco after I had read their rebuttal.

I would like to respond to the notes you have published on the Talking Tesco website in response to my earlier submission to the Competition Commission.

You state that some of the comments were inaccurate and misleading. I will challenge your reply as also being inaccurate and misleading.

Firstly you state that you received 305 comment cards of which 66% were in favour, this equates to some 201 people. You also state that a NNR poll gave you an 84% backing but does not show the number of people who responded, it could have been 26. In comparison, we recently took a petition to 10 Downing Street opposing a Tesco store in Sheringham that contained 3,500 names.

You state the proposed site is within the Town Centre. Whilst technically correct according to the Local Plan, this does not mean the proposed site is within or near the Core Retail Area. In fact the site is over 400m away from it and the existing shops cannot even be seen from the proposed location. It would be possible to drive to the proposed store, shop and drive home without even being aware that there were other shops in the vicinity. This is unlikely to offer the prospect of increased trade for other local shopkeepers.

The Agreement to purchase the land was signed on 9th May 2003. You omit to mention that this was just after a local council election had taken place and before the new council had been able to meet to review the contract. Why was it so important to Tesco to get the deal signed?

You state that this Agreement was not secret and that it did not prevent the Council from selling other land for retail development. However, there was a confidentiality clause in the Agreement which prevented the contract being made public. The Council were also advised that the clause in the contract which “prevented the Council from taking any steps which might be or become detrimental to... attempts to secure planning permission” did in effect prevent them from selling land to Budgens to allow them to use the planning permission they had already received. In fact, on 11th Nov 2003 Tesco’s own solicitors warned the Council that if they did sell land to Budgens it would be a breach of the agreement. It would be useful to know if Tesco do not now plan to enforce this clause if the Council do decide to sell this land to Budgens and refuse planning permission for Tesco.

You refer to the permissions that Budgens have to build a store in Sheringham and infer that it is on the land currently used for a car park. In fact, the land is mainly railway sidings and would not reduce the amount of places in the existing car park.

You also state that the Tesco proposal is in accord with the Council’s Local Plan, the wider Development Plan and the emerging Local Development Framework. This is false in all cases. The original Local Plan from 1998 states that there is a requirement for a supermarket in Sheringham up to 1400sqm, the Tesco proposal is for a 1500sqm store. The Norfolk Development Plan states that all retail proposals over 1000sqm should be supported by an impact assessment. The Tesco application does not include one. It also ranks Sheringham as a Small Town Centre and states that the vitality and viability should be promoted by protecting them from inappropriate development. The Local Development Framework states that in Sheringham only small-scale retail developments, not exceeding 750sqm, will be acceptable to maintain its role and function as a Small Town Centre. In addition the NNDC Retail Study in 2005 showed that there would not be sufficient retail demand to support a Tesco in Sheringham alongside the other retail provision in the district and that major new floorspace capacity should be concentrated in Cromer, Fakenham and North Walsham.

Finally, you state that the Council cannot and will not fetter its role as an independent local planning authority. However, in the investigation into the Agreement made between Tesco and NNDC there are a number of examples where the Council have been restricted by clauses in the contract from following a particular course of action. This includes the letter of 11th Nov 2003 referred to earlier, but also in advice given to the Planning Committee in determining their response to the Tesco planning appeal. The report summarised that the clause “effectively stopped the Council going forward with any development which contained a supermarket on the Station Road Car Park”. Without the existence of these clauses the Tesco application would have been refused, and of course, without planning permission not even Tesco could build a store.