Voice of the people prevails as Darlington rejects Tesco

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The Independent Online

Tesco has been forced to back down over plans to build a store in Darlington after encountering stiff opposition from the public.

Britain's biggest supermarket wanted to demolish the town hall in Darlington and build a store with a 750-space car park and 130 flats but the council detected overwhelming hostility to the development.

Public meetings suggested 77 per cent of residents disliked the plan and only 24 per cent of 1,000 people surveyed by Ipsos MORI were in favour; with 57 per cent against.

A "Say No To Tesco" petition opposing the multi-million-pound project garnered 11,000 signatories.

The failure of the scheme echoes concern about the fast expansion of the supermarket group.

Darlington council's leader, John Williams, whose Labour group has a majority of nine on the 53-seat authority, has now urged members to reject the proposal at a council meeting on 23 November.

He said local people had feared the economic impact of the development as well as its effect on Darlington's character. "Darlington is an attractive, ambitious town," said Mr Williams.

"We have a thriving town centre and the look and feel of a market town. Most people believed that a development such as that proposed by Tesco would seriously damage the town's historic market and threaten the viability of many small retailers."

A Tesco spokesman said the company respected the views of the council but added it still hoped to find a suitable site in the town.

Tesco, which has 1,400 stores and 31 per cent of the grocery market, has been accused of abusing the planning process and engaging in anti-competitive practices against local traders.

Campaigners have set up a protest website, Tescopoly, to rally national protests, and the Competition Commission has also begun an inquiry into the role and power of the supermarkets.

A spokesman for Darlington Borough Council said Tesco had approached the council two years ago with a plan to redevelop the centre of the town, including the 1960s concrete town hall, two car parks and a bus depot.

The retailer, whose nearest store was eight miles away, proposed the construction of the town's biggest supermarket - a 10,500 square metre superstore. "There were arguments for and against," said the council spokesman. "We conducted a public consultation for six weeks and there were 70 different events where we tried to get as many people as possible to have their say. We had open events, roadshows and meetings and at the same time MORI conducted a poll with 1,000 residents.

"The upshot of the roadshows and events was that more than 75 per cent didn't want it and only 24 per cent in the MORI poll supported it."

"The people of Darlington didn't want it," he added.

A spokesman for Tesco denied the council's claim that it had withdrawn its proposal, because he said formal planning application had not been submitted. There had only been draft plans and drawings for the redevelopment.

Denying it was an embarrassment for Tesco, the spokesman said: "We respect their decision. It's been written up as a bloody nose but in some ways we hadn't developed as far as plans."