The only postcode without a Tesco – but for how much longer?
Jonathan Brown reports from Harrogate on the last resistance to the supermarket
In the annals of heroic last stands the name of Harrogate is unlikely to live on alongside those of Little Bighorn or Thermopylae.
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For when, as seems likely next week, the genteel Yorkshire spa town finally agrees to yield its status as the last postcode in Britain not to host a Tesco supermarket, it will go down not with a bang but with a whimper. The expected decision by councillors will bring to an end four years of work by the retail behemoth and mark the completion of its geographic domination of Britain.
Locals say opposition has been effectively ground away by the vicissitudes of the planning system and Tesco's patient determination to convert the site of an old gasworks on a roundabout in the town's northern suburbs into a 24-hour superstore.
At the Number One Shop on Electric Avenue, which has been run by the Patel family for the past four years, there was a weary acceptance that it could do little to stop the juggernaut set to open next door.
"If it is going to come it is going to come," said Viral Patel, 27. "But at the end of the day it is down to the local people. Some are against it because it is Tesco but some are not. The noise will affect the neighbours and some are worried their gardens will be overlooked but we will just have to wait and see."
Sue Pearce, 58, and Hayley Mep-ham, 29, of Autumn Pine Interiors agreed there was little left in the way of ideological opposition to the new arrival. "It has been implied that Harrogate is too posh for Tesco but it is not that," said Mrs Pearce. "The entrance will be right in front of our shop and it will finish us off. The roadworks will go on for months. There is a little bit of pride in Harrogate that we haven't got one but in the end they are all-powerful," she said.
Technically, Harrogate has had two Tesco Expresses for a number of years but the superstore will give it a large scale presence alongside Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda Waitrose and the Co-Op.
Opponents are still holding out for the matter to be referred to Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles by the Health and Safety Executive because of concerns over the old eight-acre gas site purchased by Tesco nearly eight years ago for £3.5m. But most concede the game is up.
Despite a spirited start, the online campaign blog against the proposal has not been updated since 2007 and Tesco now claims it has the support of 70 per cent of residents for a scaled-down version of its original plan.
The supermarket's corporate affairs manager Matthew Magee said 220 people had written to the council in support. "We're pleased to be at this stage and are hopeful that councillors will approve the application," he said.
The Harrogate Advertiser has been running a website entitled The Great Tesco Debate which currently shows opposition outstripping support for the new store by 54 per cent to 46 per cent. Chief reporter Vicky Carr said: "This has been going on for four years now and to begin with there was a great deal of debate and people got quite enthusiastic about opposing it. But since it has dragged on people have lost that enthusiasm," she said.
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