Tesco triggers uprising in land of summer wine

Residents rally to protect small shops in Yorkshire home of vintage TV comedy
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The Independent Online

Holmfirth is witnessing its biggest battle since Compo wooed Nora Barry. Residents are campaigning against a planned Tesco superstore which they say would ruin the historic setting for the long-running TV series Last of the Summer Wine.

Tesco submitted plans to Kirklees Council for a 5,800sqm store on a disused garage on the edge of the market town in West Yorkshire which borders the Peak District National Park.

Campaigners say the out-of-town development would destroy Holmfirth's small retailers, which include three bakers, a butcher and a greengrocer, and turn it into a ghost town dominated by charity shops.

Several hundred protesters are expected to attend a meeting at Holy Trinity Church on Wednesday, backed by the local MP Kali Mountford and English Heritage, which this week placed Holmfirth on its Heritage at Risk register. It called on councillors to consider the store's impact on the town, many of whose stone buildings date from its role as a centre for textiles during the industrial revolution.

Tesco has held a two-day exhibition to put its case. It says most residents are in favour of the store, which would be designed to blend into the surroundings. It would also create 360 jobs.

Thousands of tourists visit Holmfirth every year, partly because of its association with Last of the Summer Wine, the ambling drama about three middle-aged men Compo, Clegg and Blamire, and the doughty housewife Nora Batty. The show, on air since 1973, features Holmfirth buildings such as Sid's Café and Nora Batty's house.

After hearing of Tesco's plans last year, residents formed the action group Holmfirth Against Tesco, later re-named Keep Holmfirth Special.

Caroline Anstey, the owner of Imagine toy shop, said Tesco would swamp the town's retailers. "I'm not opposed to having a Tesco in Holmfirth. What I'm opposed to is an out-of-town development. What we have seen in other market towns is that as soon as you build a store out-of-town it sucks the life out of the centre. We get thousands of people coming to Holmfirth and they like the small independent shops. I don't think so many will come when there are more shuttered-up shops and takeaways, and charity shops."

Fellow campaigner Margaret Dale said: "One of the treasures of my life is being able to go to the shops on a Saturday morning and talk to shopkeepers and neighbours – who I might not see during the rest of the week – and buy fresh produce in the quantities I want. I don't want to have to fight my way through huge queues."

English Heritage, which believes Holmfirth is at risk of decay, said it hoped "the council will consider its likely effect on the historic town centre when it determines the application".

Tesco, which has 2,282 British stores, said nine out of 10 people left Holmfirth to do a weekly shop and argued that having a superstore would revitalise local trade. "We have carried out a full public consultation and the majority of people we have spoken to have expressed support for this store," the chain said. "Our experience shows that when a new Tesco store opens, other local traders can actually benefit from the increased footfall." It would "continue to engage with the community" and had already dropped an unpopular plan for a green roof.

Campaigners say most residents are against the development. "Once an out-of-town superstore rolls into the area this diversity would be gone forever," Keep Holmfirth Special says. "Small independent shops would close in the face of severe undercutting and lack of footfall ... [then] services feel the squeeze too. Once this begins to happen there is no way back."

Some residents disagree. Michelle Apperley left the following message on the group's website: "Yawn yawn yawn, same tiresome old stuff. I was born in Holmfirth and lived here ever since. I want a Tesco's."