Armed with civic pride, determination and a large quantity of notepaper, the inhabitants of a small Yorkshire town have seen off Britain's biggest retailer, Tesco.
The chain withdrew a planning application this week for a 5,800 square metre superstore in Holmfirth, best known as the setting for the BBC TV series Last of the Summer Wine. Tesco's retreat represents a victory for residents who had feared siting a large supermarket on the town's outskirts would harm its character, environment, independent traders and tourism.
Tesco announced its plan to build an "environmental" energy-efficient store designed to blend in to the landscape on the site of a disused garage last December. It argued that Holmfirth needed a new supermarket to add to its small Co-op, saying that eight out of 10 residents shopped outside the town and a silent majority wanted the store.
Campaigners acknowledged the need for some commercial rejuvenation of the historic town, which borders the Peak District National Park, but claimed a large Tesco would kill off its three bakers, butcher and greengrocer and fill its centre with charity shops.
They mobilised opinion with three public meetings and a Keep Holmfirth Special website, winning the support of local MP Kali Mountford and the conservation body English Heritage.
Concerned residents sent 1,200 letters of objection to Kirklees Council. Eighty-two responses were received in favour. Kirklees had been due to decide the plan next week, but on Tuesday Tesco withdraw its application.
Margaret Dale, a resident and member of Keep Holmfirth Special, said the decision had been greeted with "jubilation" by campaigners. "We know there's work to be done in Holmfirth. We're not wrapping it in aspic but this massive threat to the town has gone away," she said.
Around 4 per cent of Holmfirth's 28,000 residents had objected to Tesco. Ms Dale said: "We have been on the streets and some people were saying 'I want a store' but the vast majority said it would devastate the town."
Andrew Bray, the proprietor of Andrew's Greengrocers, complained: "These large supermarkets opening up all over the country are strangling rural life and diversity. You get cloned towns and cloned food – it's all the same."
Jennifer Duncan, Tesco's corporate affairs manager, explained the £59bn-a-year store chain wanted to hone its proposal, which would have created 360 jobs. She said: "We remain committed to our proposed investment in Holmfirth and all the benefits this will bring. We have made good progress in our discussions with Kirklees Council but feel more time is needed to address some of the details of the application."
Holmfirth joins a small band of communities who have thwarted Tesco's plans for new stores, among them Sheringham in Norfolk, Ilkley in West Yorkshire and Alton in Hampshire.
However Tesco is a steely adversary and frequently re-submits applications until it succeeds, according to the Tescopoly campaign website. Its spokesperson Helen Rimmer, a Friends of the Earth campaigner, said: "This is another great example of a community fighting back against the Tesco takeover.
"Holmfirth residents organised an excellent campaign, challenging Tesco on every aspect of its application and lodging over 1,000 objections. But the fight is not over yet, Tesco have a history of coming back even when they're not wanted."Reuse content