Sheringham divided by 14-year store battle

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Drawings of Tesco store
Image caption,
A design being considered for the new supermarket at Sheringham

It was the battle that split an otherwise harmonious community.

Nowhere has the controversy which surrounds the expansion of the so-called 'big four' supermarkets been more evident than the Norfolk seaside town of Sheringham.

A battle to build a large supermarket in the town only saw Tesco claim victory after a 14-year planning dispute.

However it was a close race as Waitrose tabled a proposal at a late stage.

The top four supermarkets, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons, are fighting for position in other towns in Norfolk where at least 10 applications are under consideration and five have been approved in the past two years, according to research carried out by the BBC.

And the supermarkets have shown they are willing to do deals with councils to help make their applications successful.

Tesco is to give £1.2m to fund affordable housing, a community centre and a new fire station as part of its agreement for the Sheringham store.

To win approval for expansion of a branch in King's Lynn the supermarket giant offered £1.1m to fund CCTV, road improvements and a new bus service.

But in the case of Sheringham the supermarket battle, despite inducement, has created a divided community.

Shopkeepers' opposition

Some people believe the battle should continue and are keeping a watching brief on the scheme, which is due to start construction early in 2011.

There are people who do not want a supermarket at all while another group wants one but rejects Tesco. Others support the push for a large supermarket and really do not care who runs it.

Tesco has its supporters but there are also those who feel the battle has gone on too long.

The dispute was so strongly fought, a parish poll was held and just over 44% of a 6,000-strong electorate turned out to vote.

Of the 2,667 who voted, Tesco got 1,180 backers, Waitrose 1,165 and 1,205 said they did not want a Tesco store.

Existing shopkeepers in Sheringham have been the most vocal in their opposition and Alex Herbert, a baker, café owner and chairman of the town's chamber of trade, speaks for them.

He said their opposition to a supermarket scheme was always based on planning grounds as they were concerned about its size.

"The design accepted by the district council is larger than their planners originally anticipated and even goes against the advice their consultants gave them."

Mr Herbert said new posts created by Tesco would not outweigh the loss of jobs as shops and very few of those coming by car would venture into Sheringham.

'Community benefits'

"We have been fighting for 14 years and Tesco has got the result it wanted but it's not the right one for Sheringham," he said.

In a statement, Tesco said: "By working with the council we hope to start building next year and bring forward the jobs and wider community benefits that are included in the scheme."

Image caption,
A parish poll revealed a divided community and attracted 44% of a 6,000-strong electorate

The most visible expression of the divided community was shown at North Norfolk District Council where six hours of debate led to a seven - seven split in the councillors' vote between the Tesco and Waitrose plans.

Chairman Simon Partridge decided for Tesco with his casting vote and said it was on grounds that it was the better of the two.

"It conformed with national and local planning policy and would benefit the town," North Norfolk District Council said.

The committee agreed there was a need for only one supermarket, and turned down the rival application by the Greenhouse (Waitrose) Community Project for a site on Weybourne Road because it was too far from the town centre.

Leader of the council Virginia Gay said: "This has always been a matter of dealing with the applications on planning grounds.

"Our concern, as it is in all planning matters, has been to do our best to make sure Sheringham gets the right development in the right place."

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