‘Mixed feelings’ as Tesco celebrates five years in Sheringham
- Credit: Archant
October 24 marks the fifth anniversary since Tesco opened in Sheringham after a 17-year planning battle. Karen Bethell spoke to traders and shoppers to find out what effect the store's arrival has had on the town and asked them what they thought the future held for Sheringham as a popular seaside resort and shopping destination.
Protesters against the multi-million pound, 14,000 sq ft store claimed the supermarket giant's arrival in the north Norfolk seaside resort would lead to shop closures and turn Sheringham into a 'clone town'.
Opposing campaign groups were set up, with Protesc supporters insisting a supermarket would bring benefits and Sheringham Campaign Against Major Retail Over-development (SCAMROD) members claiming it would have disastrous effects, leaving a ghost town in its wake with independent shops put out of business and only chain stores and charity shops able to survive.
A bitter dispute ensued, with a whole planning committee replaced because a councillor was a former Sheringham shopkeeper and protestors on both sides accused of 'dirty tricks', including vandalising cars and writing supporting letters with fabricated names and addresses.
After rejecting Tesco's plans four times, North Norfolk District Council planning officials finally voted in favour of the company in 2010, with a five-hour meeting resulting in a 7-7 split and the casting vote made by then development committee chairman Simon Partridge.
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An application planners had previously approved for a rival scheme by eco-friendly group Greenhouse Community Project combining a Waitrose with a catering school on Weybourne Road, was thrown out, to the disgust of supporters of the scheme, whose founder, Clive Hay-Smith, stormed out of the meeting.
The supermarket giant's plans included building a walkway leading to the town centre, guaranteeing £1.3 million towards affordable housing to replace flats knocked down to make way for the Cromer Road store and building a new fire station and £2 million community centre.
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Sheringham store manager Leon Egmore, who joined the company 15 years ago and previously ran Tesco branches in Newmarket, Fakenham and Diss, said the store was a 'success story' that had enhanced community life and the local economy.
'We have 120 colleagues, all of whom are local people, so Tesco has brought jobs and careers to Sheringham,' he said. 'And, in a seasonal town, what is important is that those jobs give people year-round security.'
Sheringham Tesco had also benefited local and national charities, Mr Egmore said, with £105,000 handed out in the north Norfolk area through the company's Bags of Help scheme, £30,000 raised in store for charity partnerships, and dozens of good causes collecting donations in the store entrance.
The store had also played an active role in the carnival, the 1940s weekend and Sheringham's Dementia Friendly Town scheme, supported Cromer and District Foodbank and local schools, offered work experience to service users at disability charity About With Friends, and provided a Christmas meal at the Morley Club.
Mr Egmore added that his aim had been to work with the community and said the arrival of Tesco had been a 'win, win' move for Sheringham.
'We are a local store at the heart of the community and having a major supermarket here draws people here and keeps them here using the town centre facilities and shops,' he said.
Sheringham Chamber of Trade and Commerce secretary Andy Bullen, who agreed to take a tour of the newly-opened store in 2013 saying it was 'better the devil you know' and that traders were 'ready for the fight', admitted to initially being against the idea of having a Tesco in Sheringham.
However, he felt that, overall, the arrival of the supermarket had not been as damaging to the town as he expected and said chamber members' concerns had been listened to, and acted on, during the planning process.
'I think the fact that the chamber made objections to certain aspects of the original plans has benefited traders, particularly in terms of having access to the town and providing free parking,' he added. 'And, to be fair, Tesco has supported events in the town, they have tried to be part of the business community, and, in all honesty, they have contributed much more to Sheringham than some of the other large chains we have here.'
'Sheringham definitely hasn't turned into a ghost town'
Mervyn Thomas, who opened Craft Bakery, in High Street, 18 years ago, sells more than 500 loaves and up to 7,000 bread rolls a day to retail and wholesale customers, including Byfords and Bakers and Larners, of Holt.
He said that before Tesco opened, he was concerned about the impact the supermarket might have on his business.
'I must admit I was worried,' he said, 'But although I know some businesses say they have been affected, I can't say I have.'
Mr Thomas, whose son and daughter-in-law run Bond Street Bakery and Huckleberry's café, in Cromer, said he felt Tesco had been good for the town, increasing footfall and bringing additional parking spaces.
He added: 'People fought and fought against it, but we're all still here, we still have two butchers, two greengrocers and two bakers; Sheringham definitely hasn't turned into a ghost town and what is interesting is that a lot of people who said they would never go to Tesco do shop there.'
Parking a major issue for town traders
Bill Hartland, who has a haberdashery stall on Sheringham market, which runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays on Sheringham's main Station Road car park, said that before the arrival of Tesco, parking had been a major issue for his fellow traders.
'You will always get mixed feelings, but I think people are sick and tired of paying £1.50 an hour to park here, so I think Tesco has actually improved the market by bringing free parking to the town,' he said.
Mr Hartland, who has been trading in Sheringham for the past 39 years and was chairman of the now defunct Sheringham Market Traders Association, added: 'I think Tesco is in the centre of town where it should be, it's the right size and it's been a good thing for the town.'
'Personal service' keeps independent traders thriving
Martin Rowe, who owns M and J Butchers, in Church Street, said he had been concerned about Tesco opening in Sheringham, but, in the event, his business wasn't affected.
'At the time, I certainly didn't think it was a positive thing,' he explained. 'I had heard a lot of stories of gloom and doom about other towns like Stalham, but I think that because Sheringham is a seaside town, it makes a difference, we have lots of local people and visitors who like the independent shops and the personal service they get there.'