Sherborne celebrates "landmark success" as Tesco abandons superstore plans
TRADERS in Sherborne are celebrating a "landmark success" following Tesco's decision not to proceed with plans to build a superstore in the town.
Local businesses and councillors raised major concerns about the impact the proposed supermarket on the Sherborne Hotel site could have on the historic town's wide range of independent retailers and thriving tourist industry.
The Keep Sherborne Viable action group collected signatures from more than 11,000 people - the district's biggest ever pre-planning application petition - opposing the development and won the support of celebrities including Mary Portas, Valerie Singleton and Melanie Sykes.
In a statement released on Monday, Keep Sherborne Viable described the outcome as a "landmark example of what is possible when a professionally organised group of business people and individuals gets together to stage a carefully executed and sustained protest".
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The statement continued: "The swell of public opinion, together with a robust Local Plan and a council prepared to enforce local planning policies has meant Tesco really had no other choice but to back down."
Commenting on Tesco's public consultation and acknowledgement of the protest, the group added: "We extend our thanks to Tesco for that, and for their communication throughout the process.
"We hope it is the start of a changing mindset for the multi-national retailer, and an example to other multi-nationals, as we enter a new period in the history of Britain's changing high street. A period when people want more say about what happens in their local towns."
Keep Sherborne Viable said the future is now looking bright for the town.
"Thank you to everyone who has supported us and here's to the future vitality of Sherborne."
Councillor Dominic Elliott, mayor of Sherborne, said there was a "feeling of relief" in the town following Tesco's announcement.
"Although there were some supporters, there was a lot of opposition to the store," he said.
"The loss of the hotel was one of the greatest concerns, and we still don't know what will happen on that front."
Sally-Ann Kodurand, chairman of Sherborne Chamber of Trade and Commerce, added: "We are thrilled. Whatever reasons Tesco put forward, there was considerable influence from the massive, concentrated effort of the steering group and the town as a whole. Those who led the campaign should be congratulated.
"We are now focusing on the future. Visitors are the lifeblood of the town and we are looking at maximising the hotel's viability and contribution to the town. Sherborne needs a sizeable hotel."
Hannah Wilkins of Vineyards wine shop in Sherborne said: "The feeling in the town is amazing. This is the best outcome we could have hoped for - the superstore would have been detrimental.
"The important thing now is for people to support the hotel."
A Tesco spokesman said the decision not to submit a planning application followed extensive public consultation and discussions on the proposals with West Dorset District Council.
Chris Bush, UK Managing Director for Tesco, wrote in his blog last week: "While the Sherborne protest was not the deciding factor, we did listen to it. When we say we consult communities, we mean it. We do it because successful stores serve their communities well and to do that, we need to understand the community well.
"The consensus is usually more balanced than it might appear. In Sheringham for example a referendum in the town showed a majority in favour of a supermarket in spite of one of the most active, widely-reported protests against a store. In Marlborough, a market town like Sherborne, campaigners fought vigorously for a Tesco in the town.
"Supermarkets have become a convenient scapegoat for changing high streets but the reality is far more complex. The real question driving this debate is this; how do you explain why some high streets untouched by supermarkets fail while others thrive with a mix of large and small retailers trading successfully side-by-side? In high streets where we have built small stores, Southampton University researchers have found the convenience they provide attracts customers back to the town centre."
Report by Mathew Manning
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