Rural town rejects bid by Tesco to build giant store

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The main street in Sheringham boasts three greengrocers, two butchers, one ironmonger and, much to the delight of campaigners yesterday, a distinct absence of any retail outlet bearing the name Tesco.

The small Norfolk coastal town was celebrating after councillors refused a planning application by the supermarket giant for a 1,500 square-metre store on the edge of the town centre – opposite its only listed building, a Catholic church.

The 17-0 vote to throw out the plans, in defiance of a recommendation from officials at the North Norfolk District Council, was a dramatic twist in the 10-year battle between the chain, which has 2,000 stores nationwide, and opponents who claim the store would imperil Sheringham's thriving shopping area and the small independent retailers who do business there.

Conservationists hailed the vote as a signal that government plans for a change to planning laws, which critics say will allow supermarkets to build new stores more easily, should be re-examined. Tom Oliver, the head of rural policy at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "This decision sends a clear message of hope for local communities ... that the supermarket onslaught can be successfully resisted."

Those in favour of the development in Sheringham claimed it would attract shoppers who currently drive out of the town in search of a supermarket. The campaigners claimed 53 per cent of residents were in favour of the Tesco store.

Opponents said the Tesco plans were disproportionate to the town's size and a threat to its survival. Ill feeling against the chain was bolstered when it emerged that Tesco had signed an undisclosed agreement with previous council officials preventing a rival developing a smaller plot of land.

Tesco said it would appeal against the ruling.

One councillor said it was time for Tesco to withdraw its plans and come up with new proposals to build a smaller eco-friendly store built from straw.