Sandwiched between the red and white cliffs of the Jurassic Coast and surrounded by acres of unspoilt saltmarsh, the Devon resort of Seaton has prided itself on its status as a serene backwater whose last serious skirmish with an unwanted invader was 700 years ago when it supplied Edward I with ships and sailors to fight off the French.
Yesterday, however, the 7,500 inhabitants of the town on the south Devon coast were readying themselves for a new battle after Tesco bought its largest employer, a holiday village, and promptly ordered its closure. The site also houses Seaton's only nursery, catering for 35 children, and a swimming pool.
The 152 staff at the Lyme Bay Holiday Village have received redundancy letters informing them that the village, which hosts 40,000 people a year, will close next January to make way for a new development including a large supermarket, a visitor centre and tourist accommodation.
Residents have accused the retail giant, which last year made profits of nearly £2bn, of "breathtaking arrogance" by failing to present any firm proposals for the 15-hectare plot or a timetable for its redevelopment, meaning the town faces the prospect of being without a nursery or housing for the 80 holiday village staff who live on the sites.
Campaigners claim the company, which has said it wants to help make Seaton a "sustainable tourism" centre, has failed to respond to requests for a meeting to discuss its plans and only exercised its option to buy the holiday village after Sainsbury's, expressed interest last month in acquiring land to build a store.
Lizzie Bewsher, head of a community group opposed to the plans, Stand Up 4 Seaton, said: "In one fell swoop, Tesco have bought up and shut down Seaton's single biggest source of employment and income. A lot of businesses in the town rely on the passing trade that the holiday village brings in. The people who live in the holiday village face being made homeless and working parents will have nowhere to leave their children. The nearest nursery will be 10 miles away. The village also has the only gym and swimming pool in a town with very few facilities.
"Tesco has done this without offering any assurances that these facilities will be replaced next January or indeed without putting forward any plans for what it wants to do after the closure. It is acting with breathtaking arrogance. We have absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that Tesco will not bulldoze the holiday village, put a big fence around it and leave it untouched for a decade. They are throwing around their financial weight but we are determined not to stand for it."
One employee said: "We are not by any means a failing business. The village is very popular with the local community and there is a very solid demand throughout the year. There is a lot of ill-feeling that a good business is being closed down without anything firm to replace it."
If Tesco builds a store in Seaton it will be its tenth outlet within 22 miles. Residents have to travel 18 miles to reach one of its main competitors (Sainsbury's, Asda or Morrisons), but there is a Waitrose seven miles away.
Tesco said in a statement: "The regeneration of Seaton ... will bring significant and lasting benefits to the town, including new employment opportunities, with 250 or more new jobs being created by the new store, attractive shopping facilities and affordable housing. With regard to nursery provision, we are very happy to consider reproviding this service as part of the scheme in conjunction with private operators."Reuse content