Campaigners halt the march of Tesco
The relentless march of Tesco in Britain's market town high streets was stopped in its tracks last night - by Norfolk people power. A government inspector said the supermarket giant would not be allowed to build a 1,500 sq m superstore in Sheringham because it would harm the "vitality and viability" of the town, which prides itself on its range of independent traders. Many feared they would be forced out of business if Tesco had won its 13-year battle to establish a supermarket in the town. Campaigners and politicians said the victory would reverberate around the country and help other communities battling the power of Tesco and the other big chains. The Sheringham Tesco saga began in the mid 1990s when the company showed interest in building a store on the old Hilbre School site on Holway Road.Yesterday's ruling is one of only a handful of unsuccessful appeals launched by the supermarket giant, which operates 1,252 stores across the UK as well as offering personal finance and insurance services. Its bosses were clearly shocked at the defeat, saying they needed to "take some time to consider the inspector's report". During the appeal, Tesco had argued that its store would stop people heading out of Sheringham to do their weekly shop and would bring more spin-off trade to the town centre. Last night, Nigel Dowdney, independent store owner in Stalham and Earlham and a member of the Association of Convenience Stores, said concerns about damage to competition were often discussed but not given enough weight by the government. He said: "There is a feeling the government is changing the goalposts slowly but surely and this decision is a major step forward for communities and a major setback for Tesco." The planning inspectorate is finally beginning to stop, listen and look at the evidence."It is a proven fact, the building of a supermarket has a detrimental effect on all sorts of local businesses, not just food stores."North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: "I think it will send shockwaves through the planning system nationally as well as locally."There's an assumption that Tesco will always win. But here they haven't."Helen Rimmer, for anti-Tesco campaign group Tescopoly and Friends of the Earth, described the inspector's report as "a landmark ruling"."It's very rare for Tesco to lose an appeal and the Sheringham fight has been such a high-profile case that the decision is of national importance," she said."It shows Tesco cannot bulldoze the rights and wishes of local communities."Sheringham campaigner Richard Hewitt, a town councillor and planning solicitor, felt the Sheringham decision would be "noted nationally".Janet Farrow, chairman of Sheringham Chamber of Trade, said: "What has come out of this is that councils and the government have got to listen more closely to public opinion."The message that has to go out is that residents need to have their feelings taken on board."Big companies do have a lot of power and sometimes seem to be able to get round planning regulations, but I believe that people see results like ours and think they can win their fight too."In her 44-point summary, inspector Christina Downes said that while the store would have some benefits for the town, they were outweighed by irreparable damage it could do to existing traders and the character of the lively resort.She concluded: "The harm that I have identified to the vitality, viability and retail function of Sheringham town centre and the likely detrimental impact on future investment is of overriding importance."While a well-located food store of the right size in the right place would be of undoubted benefit, this proposal is likely to irreparably diminish the attractiveness and quality of the tourist and market town." Tesco argued its planned store on the Cromer Road would stop people driving to do their weekly shopping in other towns and would generate spin-off business for Sheringham.Tesco corporate affairs manager Nick Gellatly said: "We are disappointed by this decision. We will take some time to consider the inspector's report before we reach a decision on our response to it."Pam Blyth, who heads a Pro-Tesc support group in the town, said: "It's a shame, but that's her ruling and it's a democracy at work, so we accept the decision."