Tesco succeed in Sheringham store battle
07:52 15 October 2010
Tesco has won its 14-year battle to build a supermarket at Sheringham by the narrowest of margins – on the casting vote of a planning committee chairman.
After a five-hour debate and 7-7 split, North Norfolk District Council development committee chairman Simon Partridge voted in favour of the Cromer Road scheme.
It looks to have ended months of debate and division, but sparked outrage from supporters of the rival Greenhouse Project Scheme, whose founder Clive Hay-Smith stormed out of the meeting at the end.
Tesco corporate affairs manager Michael Kissman said the decision, greeted by cheers from Tesco supporters, was based on the company providing the store which would benefit the town the most.
The company would be looking at the conditions, which included building materials and operating hours, but was “keen to get on with the project”.
It will have to build a replacement for the fire station and community centre which will have to be knocked down to make way for the store.
He told the meeting that Tesco’s plan was in the best location, had real benefits and asked councillors to be wary of people’s perceptions of the company.
The evidence of spin-off trade was based on experience elsewhere, rather than “fears of what might happen”.
Waitrose looks unlikely to challenge the decision. Director Nigel Keen said earlier in the day “We are not renowned for appeals. If communities don’t want us it’s their decision.”
Hours of presentations by officers and pleas from more than 20 public speakers representing both sides resulted in a flurry of proposals and counter-proposals seeking to support each store, both stores and neither store.
Eventually the Tesco scheme, which has been supported by officers throughout the saga, was put to a tense recorded vote which was neck and neck, leaving the chairman to tilt the balance in Tesco’s favour.
Afterwards Mr Partridge said it was the “most difficult decision I have ever had to make in all my time on the council”.
It came after councillors earlier “clarified” a March decision to approve the Waitrose scheme, but were told that developments since then meant they would have to look at both schemes again.
He added: “I think the process we have gone through is as fair as it practically could be.
“Whichever outcome we had would have alienated half of Sheringham. I said all along that it was about sites, not companies. We certainly needed one or other of the supermarkets and, in purely planning terms, Cromer Road was the obvious one to go for.”
The food academy attached to the Waitrose plan had many merits and had attracted passionate support, but Mr Partridge said it was “in the wrong place”.
Pro-Tesco campaigner Jono Read said he was delighted at the decision and would be celebrating with champagne.
“It’s stunning that after 14 years we have finally come to the end of this debacle,” he said. “I’m glad they have listened to the results of the parish poll, the officers’ recommendation and all the expert advice. Now I’m looking forward to seeing this store built.”
After the vote, Greenhouse Community Project supporters left the council chamber and Eroica Mildmay, chairman of anti-Tesco group Scamrod, refused to comment.
The Rev Douglas Durand, a retired priest who spoke in support of Greenhouse, said the decision was “very unfortunate.”
He added: “The person in the chair was the person who proposed the motion in favour of Tesco at the March 4 meeting. I think that it was unfair that his casting vote was used to decide this issue when it was split 50-50.”
And chamber of trade chairman Alex Herbert, who told the meeting they would prefer both plans to be refused, said afterwards the meeting was a “farce”, adding: “We are not happy with the outcome – and don’t understand why the earlier decision did not stand or why a councillor ended up having two votes.
Local councillors voiced concerns about the Tesco scheme, with Brian Hannah telling members they were making a “pivotal decision for Sheringham” and should back the Waitrose scheme and become a “beacon” rather than “give into a bully”.
Penny Bevan-Jones said officers’ recommendations were based on planning, but it was down to councillors to make a decision, and she favoured Waitrose – which would also mean the community centre would be retained in its central position.
Hilary Nelson was also against Tesco and urged councillors not to be “Jonah swallowed by the Tesco whale”.
Julia Moss welcomed the input of local young people into the earlier debate, but she asked what would be the outcome of a suggestion that both plans were approved and they “let the market decide”.
Retail consultant Mark Wood replied that the combined £4.3m turnover impact could even spell closure for Budgens at nearby Holt.
After the vote councillors, by then in a virtually empty chamber, agreed to delegate to officers the fine detail of about 40 conditions, including landscaping, materials, operating hours and car parking.
The design of gates for goods vehicles, the provision of gateway features at each end of a pedestrian walkway to the town centre, and the materials used on the linked flats and community buildings will be the subject of further consultation. Officers also want to reduce the amount of space available for the sale of non-food goods from 20pc to 13pc.