Decision on Tesco plans this week

Steam trains puff cheerily at its station. Tourists take bracing walks along its mural-tattooed seafront. Shoppers explore the streets and bustling market for bargains.

Steam trains puff cheerily at its station. Tourists take bracing walks along its mural-tattooed seafront. Shoppers explore the streets and bustling market for bargains.

Sheringham has all the signs of a healthy holiday town enjoyed by visitors and residents alike. And everyone wants to keep it that way.

That is why, away from its sunny picture-postcard exterior, the resort has been under the cloud of a supermarket saga which comes to a climax this week.

It is a storyline that resonates with many other towns across the region, indeed the country, which have battled against the seemingly unstoppable march of big store chain expansions.

Will retail baron Tesco succeed in its long-running quest to woo the local planning committee and get permission for a store close to the town centre?

Or will local landowner Clive Hay-Smith, who rode in late in the day, find favour with his Greenhouse eco-store on the outskirts, linked to community benefits, local food sourcing and an educational food academy?

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It sounds like a trailer for a soap opera, which this story stretching back to 1996 has become at times with its mixture of compelling plot twists and strong characters.

But that should not hide the fact that this is far from light entertainment. It is deadly serious for the future of the town.

And it will be a decision that will be watched by communities across the nation, as the mighty Tesco takes on another community where many people have taken up the verbal pikestaffs to defend their town centre and the small independent traders lining its streets.

It is a classic David and Goliath tale, where the slingshots of the small traders have so far triumphed over the all-selling-and-discounting store giant through planning rejections at council and appeal level.

But is time running out for the underdogs?

The pros and cons of each scheme have been debated long and hard already as each side tabled its plans, sparking vocal and often bitter responses from the rivals.

But the officers' report to Thursday's planning committee meeting has further fanned the flames by recommending Tesco should be approved, while the Greenhouse scheme, which would be run by Waitrose, is refused.

The crux of the detailed report is that the Waitrose store would be too far from the town centre and do more harm to the existing traders than the Tesco one, which will replace the town's fire station and community centre. It also says the Greenhouse's bolt-on goodies are commendable but not enough to let it break planning policies.

Councillors have the unenviable task of making a decision that takes into account the local people's views and concerns, but which also accords with planning policy, which currently favours supermarkets as close to the town centre as possible.

On previous experience, they will deliberate and decide with the eyes of a hostile public gallery boring into the back of their heads.

The “anti's” have consistently said the Tesco plan will kill off the town centre, because it has led to shop closures in other places such as Stalham and Hunstanton, as the convenience shopping experience hits the butchers, bakers and grocers in the existing high street.

But Tesco says more people will visit the town, instead of driving elsewhere for their weekly shop, and would stroll into the town centre through a new linked walkway.

Both Tesco and the Greenhouse projects claim they have major public backing, but Thursday's decision will have to be taken on clinical planning grounds, with the popularity contest, emotions and

any prejudices firmly put to one


Many agree that Sheringham needs a bigger grocery shop, but that it needs to be the right size and location.

Councillors will this week try to answer that conundrum within the space of a few hours - knowing the result of their decision will shape the future of Sheringham for generations to come.

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