Sheringham Tesco hearing under way
Or it could be the beginning of the end and suck the life out of the vibrant seaside resort's town centre.
The two sides of the long-running argument were outlined yesterday on the opening day of a major planning inquiry into a store scheme. It is a debate which has split local opinion for 10 years. Now, over the next 10 days, the bones will be picked over again by sharp-suited lawyers, experts and concerned locals keen to ensure their voice is heard by government inspector Christina Downes, whose decision should be known six to eight weeks after the hearing finishes.
Tesco is appealing against North Norfolk District Council's failure to decide a 2003 store plan, and refusal of a similar 2007 one. The company's QC Russell Harris said its 1,500 sq m store was “an opportunity, not a threat” which would enhance rather than harm the town's vitality.
His claim that Sheringham was “still vibrant but in gentle decline as a result of the absence of any significant investment over the past 10 years” drew shouts of “rubbish” from a packed public gallery - prompting the inspector to remind them it was a formal inquiry hearing, not a “theatre”.
Tesco also said the positive impact had been mentioned in expert advice which had been “airbrushed” from the council's case. Mr Harris said the council's reversal of a previous statement - saying it would not object to one of the appeals - was “close to bizarre”.
Council barrister James Strachan said the Tesco store would double the amount of food shopping floorspace in Sheringham and account for a quarter of all the shop floorspace in the town. The size was inappropriate for the need, and could see the closure of the local Co-op store, its “generic” design was poor for a main gateway to the town, and extra traffic could cause congestion on the busy coast road.
Chamber of trade chairman Janet Farrow, who feared it could spell “the beginning of the end”, said traders accepted there was a need for more grocery shopping in Sheringham but opposed the size and location of the Tesco plan.
Eroica Mildmay from the Sheringham Campaign Against Major Retail Overdevelopment, was concerned the town would face the “slow death” suffered by other centres hit by supermarkets, and would become another “bleak” clone town, adding: “It will suck the life out of the town.”
Local businessman Richard Hewitt said there was no justification or reason to take a gamble with Sheringham over the Tesco plan.
In the morning there were parking problems outside the council headquarters at Cromer, but by the afternoon, when the evidence turned to nitty gritty retail impact argument, the public gallery had virtually disappeared. It is planned to run the inquiry 9.30am to 5.30pm on most days, but a 9am start on Fridays, and an evening session at Sheringham next Tuesday to help local people attend.