Final bid to stop new Tesco store
After a decade-long saga of applications and rejection at Sheringham, opponents of the supermarket scheme outlined their fears as a 10-day appeal hearing ended with closing speeches.
Sheringham Campaign Against Major Retail Overdevelopment (Scamrod) chairman Eroica Mildmay broke down in tears as she said: "We have been trying to save our town and avoid the trauma of watching, through our fingers, as shops drift into decline."
Tesco's scheme for a 1,500 sq m store and 180 parking spaces on the Cromer Road was the biggest development facing the town since railways arrived in the 1890s.
"It has taken generations to build up the High Street, but it could take just three years to completely undo it," she told the inquiry.
Chamber of Trade chairman Janet Farrow said the town centre stood to lose nearly £1m of trade to Tesco in the first year, which would have a major effect on its vitality, while the extra 13,500 shopping journeys diverted to the town would cause traffic congestion on the main coast road and rat-runs down residential streets.
They favoured the 750 sq m store being suggested in the emerging Local Development Framework (LDF) planning policy, because a 1,500 sq m store would cover the same retail floorspace as the rest of the town's shops put together.
James Strachan, barrister for North Norfolk District Council which refused the store plan last year, said allowing it now would "strangle at birth" the new LDF. Tesco's scheme was based on outdated studies and policies and provided a store far bigger than was needed for Sheringham's status as a small secondary town, and which would draw 45pc of its turnover from Cromer and Holt.
The final word went to Tesco QC Russell Harris who said the "well-orchestrated" Scamrod campaign had persuaded councillors to refuse permission "contrary to every piece of rational expert evidence". He attacked the council's evidence as fundamentally-flawed, "puerile mathematical exercises divorced from reality", and littered with schoolboy errors. A string of experts said the store would stop the flow of shoppers out of town, and would enhance rather than harm the town, where there was no significant evidence that trading was vulnerable. The new LDF could be "obsolete before the ink is dry" because of new government planning guidance, announced during the inquiry, abolishing the requirement to establish need.
Inquiry inspector Christina Downes will return to the town later for a guided tour of the site, and to observe its shopping centre, and traffic, as well as visiting nearby towns, before announcing her decision in a few weeks' time.