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Stalham: what's the people's verdict?

PUBLISHED: 14:38 01 October 2008 | UPDATED: 09:10 13 July 2010

STALHAM - phoenix or dodo? What are we non-Stalhamites to think? Has Tesco given it a new lease of life with more jobs, more visitors and a rejuvenating High Street? Or has Tesco the Terrible ripped the heart out of a once-thriving community and left it for dead?

Tesco wants to double the size of its store in the town, and some tell us this is great news.

STALHAM - phoenix or dodo? What are we non-Stalhamites to think? Has Tesco given it a new lease of life with more jobs, more visitors and a rejuvenating High Street? Or has Tesco the Terrible ripped the heart out of a once-thriving community and left it for dead?

Tesco wants to double the size of its store in the town, and some tell us this is great news.

Eric Lindo says there would be even more Tesco jobs, road and landscaping improvements and that demand for town centre shops is the highest for years. But Mr Lindo is chairman of regeneration group, the Stalham with Happing Partnership. He wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't put the best possible spin

on the plan - in Mandy Rice-Davies's words: “He would say that, wouldn't he?”

Others paint a different picture, including a High Street trader. I was struck by the passion behind antiques dealer Mike Hicks's comments in last week's News.

He said: “…what is for sure is that Tesco is 100pc not going to help Stalham. The High Street is dead, dead, dead - it's a ghost town.”

A colleague visited Stalham's Tuesday street “market” a couple of weeks ago and counted just four-and-a-half stalls.

Some say that, if the town is going downhill, it's due to the decline in its market rather than Tesco's appearance on the scene.

But wasn't it Tesco building on the site of the once-thriving market, forcing it to move elsewhere, that started the rot?

I was last in Stalham during the summer when we were all still reeling from the leaked draft paper, produced by Natural England, that suggested allowing the sea to breach about 15 miles of our coast and flood inland as far as Potter Heigham and Stalham to create a new bay and save the rest of the Norfolk coast from the impact of climate change.

I'm about to draw a deep breath and show that it's quite easy to knock Stalham. Symptoms of decline are pretty evident, as suggested

in the unforgiving photo above, taken on that last visit.

Here are the first two verses of Sir John Betjeman's famous poem, Slough:

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!

It isn't fit for humans now,

There isn't grass to graze a cow.

Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens

Those air-conditioned, bright canteens,

Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,

Tinned minds, tinned breath.

And here's my version, entitled Stalham:

Come friendly sea and Stalham drown,

It isn't fit to call a town,

All the shops are shutting down.

BOGOF Tesco.

Come waves and smash to smithereens,

Those walls graffitied by rude teens,

Drab paint, cracked panes, 'Closed' signs, lost dreams,

High Street, brought low.

Right, you phoenix brigade - prove the dodo faction wrong. Where are your pictures showing the other face of Stalham?

And how about a parody of Wordsworth's Composed Upon Westminster Bridge?

It has that famous opening line: Earth has not anything to show

more fair…

I know there is another story to tell - the In Bloom efforts, a staggering collection of talented artists, thriving churches and quality businesses that defy the odds. It's over to you….


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