Tesco wins officers’ backing in Sheringham store saga

The see-saw battle to build a supermarket at Sheringham has reopened with planning officials once again backing a long-running Tesco scheme rather than a rival Waitrose store which has already won support from councillors.

Another decision day looms for the saga next Thursday, when North Norfolk District Council's development committee is being asked to unravel a tangled web of old and new decisions in the bitter controversy.

A report sees officers favouring the Tesco plan for the Cromer Road, rather than a rival Greenhouse Community Project scheme, which would include a Waitrose store, food academy and kitchen garden, farther out on the Weybourne Road which councillors backed in March, going against officers' recommendations.

A 'meeting of two halves' on Thursday will see the former committee asked to 'articulate and amplify' its reasons so they were legally defensible - and facing three options- to confirm their earlier decision and clarify the reasons, confirm the decisions with amended reasons, or reach different decisions.

But the recently reconstituted committee will also be asked to look again at both rival schemes because of further submissions and representations, including a 'reasons to approve' dossier from the Greenhouse agents and fresh plans from Tesco.

Once again officers are recommending refusal of the Greenhouse site and approval of the Tesco scheme on the Cromer Road, because it is closer to the town centre with an improved walkway and likely to generate more spin-off trade.

The report says the edge-of-town Greenhouse site would potentially be more harmful because fewer shoppers would make linked trips to the existing centre, and other elements were 'not of sufficient weight' to justify going against policies.

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It also says the greenhouse agents' dossier sent to councillors, which sought to be a record of the March meeting, should be ignored because it was not accurate.

And officers say last week's parish poll, which saw Tesco edge out Greenhouse 1180 to 1165 on 'do you support it' vote, should carry 'little weight' because the Greenhouse question included community centre and housing schemes not in the current plans.

Retail impact studies showed that Tesco's assessment 'probably underestimated' the potential impact on local trade, but the council's own expert said his analysis concluded the effects were not enough to justify refusal.

The negative impact of the Greenhouse scheme would also be acceptable, but the positive impacts of spin-off trips would be less than Tesco which was considered a 'key and determinative difference' between the schemes.

Councillors are being recommended to back the Tesco plans, and refuse the Greenhouse ones because of its location and impact.

Tesco corporate affairs manager Michael Kissman said: 'Last week the Sheringham parish poll demonstrated that a massive 82pc of people want a supermarket and that Tesco was the most popular choice. No longer can a small minority against Tesco claim they speak for the community.

'We are obviously delighted the council's own experts support our scheme. Our proposal to invest in the town centre is the only option on the table which will bring people into Sheringham's shops, rather than take them away.'

A spokesman for the Greenhouse project said they were not surprised by the latest officers report, but 'remained convinced' that the scheme 'about much, much more than just a supermarket' and was 'by far the stronger option for the people and town of Sheringham.'

'The suggestion that the local referendum questions were flawed is hard to accept. The Greenhouse Community Project has several aspects that fall outside the main planning application, such as the huge new allotment site. Tesco has nothing notable on offer in this respect, simply having to apply for a new community centre and fire station because it wants to demolish the existing facilities,' he added.