Tesco plan to double Stalham store

Richard Batson Supermarket giant Tesco is seeking to double the size of its Stalham store so it can compete better with neighbouring supermarkets.The move comes just days after the company's bid to build a new store at Sheringham was rejected by a planning inspector.

Richard Batson

Supermarket giants Tesco are pressing ahead with plans to double the size of their Stalham store.

Just as at Sheringham, the project has split local opinion over whether it will help or harm the town.

But while a Sheringham campaigner urged Stalham opponents to stand up and be counted, a Tesco opponent has admitted a major protest was unlikely because local people had capitulated.

Tesco's announcement that it was reviving its dormant Stalham plans came just days after Sheringham celebrated the company's failed appeal bid for a 1,500sq m store there - rejected because a planning inspector feared it would permanently damage the town centre.

But Tesco was quick to stress that the Stalham scheme was not linked or relevant to the defeat.

Most Read

Spokesman Nick Gellatly said: “The inspector's decision confirms that she visited other town centres including Stalham and found that they had different characteristics and thus the circumstances were not comparable”.

Tesco built its current 1,300 sq m Stalham store six years ago with 189 parking spaces. Now it wants to nearly double the store and provide 362 spaces - and will unveil plans at a two day, pre application exhibition in the town on September 26-27.

The company said its original scheme was based on the size flagged up in a council design brief, but that “the proof of the pudding” in trading had shown it was not big enough in size or the range of goods to meet customers' needs.

It needed to be more like the North Walsham Sainsbury store in size.

There was a huge outcry over the original Tesco scheme, and opponents have claimed it killed off high street shops.

But the company argued that the closures were down to a decline in the town caused by the death of its cattle market, and that the Tesco was actually helping it recover.

Eric Lindo, chairman of the area's regeneration group, the Stalham with Happing Partnership, agreed, saying the store had already brought 85 jobs to the town and was its biggest employer, while demand for town centre shops was the highest in years.

There were still opponents, but he felt the expansion would bring benefits including road and landscaping improvements.

Tesco's extension using the old abattoir land which they bought several years ago will mean relocating the access road to the store and town centre, to include a roundabout on the A149, improving safety.

Mr Gellatly said the latest plans, which followed a similar scheme floated two years ago, had now addressed issues such as the road junction.

Before submitting such a major planning application this autumn Tesco has to consult the community, and will be staging an exhibition in the Baptist Church Hall, Lower High Street, on September 26 and 27 - from 2.30-6 on the Friday and 10-2 on the Saturday.

Town council chairman Tony Ross-Benham said Stalham had come to terms with the current-sized Tesco, but it remained to be seen what people would think of it doubling.

Shops had changed in the centre, but because of a variety of reasons. The high street now seemed to be “mostly let and ticking over.”

But some shopkeepers would doubtless be concerned about what other goods the expanded store would sell.

Among them is antiques dealer Mike Hicks, a long-term the Stalham Tesco, which he blamed for irreversibly changing the character of the town.

He feared people would treat the approaching planning application as a “fait accompli”, adding: “The difference to Sheringham is that the foot is in the door in Stalham. Tesco have such wealth and such power, I think Tesco will get a very easy ride.

“I am so pleased for Sheringham, but I can't see the same thing happening here. People here have capitulated.

“But what is for sure is that Tesco is 100 per cent not going to help Stalham. The High Street is dead, dead, dead - it's a ghost town.”

However the successful Sheringham campaign should serve as proof of what can be achieved, said Eroica Mildmay, spokesman for Sheringham Campaign Against Mass Retail Overdevelopment (Scamrod).

“It needs complete grit and dedication, you need a good team with a range of talents and you need to be prepared to speak publicly and be controversial,” said Miss Mildmay.

“It needs effort from a number of individuals who are prepared to stand up and be counted. You need to have the ears of your councillors and have their confidence.

“You can't have a little bit of a go, you need to be dogged. Hopefully the situation in Sheringham might give Stalham a bit of fuel. It's got to be worth a fight - after all the Sheringham result shows that the scenery is changing. Our result doesn't have to be a one-off.”