Gardeners refuse to up roots for Tesco

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The Independent Online
It may be the most generous special offer that Tesco, the supermarket giant, has ever made. What allotment holder could resist a free greenhouse, tool shed, watering system, state-of-the-art security and five rent-free years on a new plot, freshly dug in time for the growing season - a package worth more than pounds 1000 per head?

But gardeners are a hard sell: none harder than the 68 men and women who dig the allotments in Hazel Grove, Stockport, on the site where Tesco wants to build a multi-million pound superstore. Consigning the offer to the compost heap, they have declared: "We shall not be uprooted."

Their stand has been supported by Stockport Metropolitan District Council, owners of the four-acre site. The council has refused Tesco's pounds 6m offer for the land, despite being faced with a pounds 12m budget deficit this year. The supermarket group, which owns a chunk of land alongside the allotments, has retired to consider its position.

"It's certainly not the end of it," says Richard Anderson, spokesman for Tesco."We're extremely disappointed and quite puzzled as to why they have turned our offer down. We thought it was quite generous."

As well as the benefits for individual plot-holders, Tesco would have built a central administrative building with a lecture hall and toilets.

But John Burrows, chairman of the Hazel Grove Allotment Holders Association, explained why he and his friends cannot be bought off with prettily packaged promises. "The allotments have been worked for 80 years," he said. "A lot of my members are retired and wouldn't want to start again on virgin land."

The new site proposed by Tesco is a playing field 150 yards away. "It's waterlogged," Mr Burrows insists.

After consulting his members, he declined Tesco's offer to have a spokesman address a meeting of the association. So the supermarketeers tried the direct approach.

"They sent us a glossy brochure," he said, spitting out the last two words as though they described some particularly virulent soil pest. "They were trying to persuade us what a good deal it was. They must have got our addresses from the council. We think that may be a breach of the Data Protection Act."

As tempers fray, Tesco has not said what its next move will be but has hinted it might go ahead with a smaller store on the land it already owns. This would mean putting a busy car park right next to the allotments.

Mr Burrows, a 71-year-old retired surveyor, says that is a feeble threat, given that the plots are only a few yards from the busy A6.

But he concedes that Tesco will not go away. "They won't give up because they think they're so big," he says bitterly.