England

Hadleigh Tesco battle: How people power saw off store giant

  • 14 December 2013
  • From the section England
Campaigners in Hadleigh fought against Tesco, which had hoped to to open a superstore in the town

It is a battle that has been raging across the UK, but in one market town hostilities have come to an end - for now.

Tesco has withdrawn its application to build a supermarket in Hadleigh, Suffolk, following a 26-year campaign against the proposed store by local people. But why is one market town claiming victory while others have failed?

After Babergh District Council rejected its latest application, the supermarket chain said: "We respect the democratic planning process and have decided not to appeal against the committee's decision."

Campaigners were jubilant. "I'm absolutely delighted," said Jan Byrne, who led the Hands Off Hadleigh campaign against Tesco.

She added: "I think they didn't expect to be defeated in this silly little town."

Hadleigh has a population of about 7,000 and became wealthy through the wool and cloth industries

Her group opposed the supermarket on environmental and economic concerns, and are claiming victory against the chain where many others have failed.

In October, Tesco opened a store in Sheringham, Norfolk, after a bitter 14-year fight.

Their plans were opposed by a group called Scamrod - Sheringham Campaign Against Major Retail Overdevelopment.

So why did Hadleigh's campaign get the result it was after while Sheringham's campaigners were disappointed?

"The difference between us and Sheringham is that there, the waters got muddied," said Mrs Byrne.

"They were prepared to accept Waitrose on another site but not Tesco."

'It was terrifying'

Hadleigh's campaign was "low-key", she said.

"It was Tesco in their suits and we little souls in our jeans.

"It was just locals doing it until the very last application when we brought the professionals in.

"At times, it was absolutely terrifying. You're hoping you don't say the wrong thing at the wrong time [and end] up in court."

Tesco hoped to build the store at the former Brett Works site

Campaigners raised £80,000, commissioning an economic study and a traffic survey and hiring a barrister.

Until then, they had relied largely on their own efforts.

"We had boxes of stuff from Tesco and we read every word of it," said Mrs Byrne. "We went through it with a fine-tooth comb."

They visited towns cited by Tesco and conducted their own traffic counts in an attempt to show the impact of supermarkets on existing high streets.

"We went to Tiptree, Saxmundham and Stow-on-the-Wold. We went to March and Wisbech," said Mrs Byrne.

"We held marches and traffic counts. We had poster campaigns and a family picnic. Five- or six-hundred people turned out for a walk - and it turned out to be good fun."

For other campaign groups looking to win planning battles, she has the following advice: "Read everything you can get your hands on. Do your own research.

"I'm an ex-nurse. I know nothing about retail or traffic, but in every small town there are people with vast amounts of knowledge.

"Use your local talent. It's your town - you know it better than anybody else."

'Hadleigh is special'

Tesco has said it will discuss any future plans with the townsfolk, something that Chris Wade, chief executive of campaign group Action for Market Towns, believes is important.

He said: "It does show the importance of listening to local opinion so that people are planning and getting involved in creating town centres that they want locally and for the future."

He added: "There's an awful lot of emotion locally but it seems an awful lot of considered thought has gone into it.

"Hadleigh is a special case. The size of the supermarket relative to the town centre was one of the issues and also, there are the existing supermarkets in and around the town."

In a statement, Tesco said: "We own much of the property and are currently considering alternative options for the site.

"We look forward to discussing this with the council and community."

On the question of why it had decided to walk away from Hadleigh - and whether this was definitely the end for its plans for the town - Tesco declined to comment.

But Mrs Byrne said: "Should they come back, we'll be waiting."

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