Blow for Tesco Mill Road campaigners

[This article mentions that some objections came from abroad; however, it fails to make clear that the vast majority of the enormous number of applications came from local residents. The Tesco spokesperson also fails to address the fact that there were no supporting letters submitted whatsoever.]

By Raymond Brown

Letters - Tesco Protest
Protestors against the new Tesco store.

CAMPAIGNERS against a Tesco store have been dealt a cruel blow.

Despite a massive wave of protest, planning officers at Cambridge City Council have recommended for approval three applications to allow new signage, a cash machine and an extension at the planned store in Mill Road, Cambridge.

The supermarket giant already has permission to open a store in the street, which is famed for small shops.

A petition bearing 4,136 signatures, a 600-strong protest march through Cambridge and a 1,500-strong Facebook group entitled Tescopoly: Every Little Hurts, has failed to stop planning chiefs.

A staggering 1,200 letters against the Express shop in the “diverse and unique” road flooded council offices from across the globe.

The list of objectors reads like a Who’s Who of protesters.

They include letters from Fox Studios in Australia, ex-pats in Germany, Addenbrooke’s department of clinical biochemistry, the BBC studios in London, Cambridge Friends of the Earth and the narrowboat Lee, moored at Midsummer Common.

The master’s secretary of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge University Press, the Britten Sinfonia and two of the city’s vicars also weighed in.

But the pleas fell on deaf ears despite figures from the Competition Commission showing that Tesco controls 51 per cent of the grocery market in Cambridge – its ninth highest market share in Britain.

A David and Goliath-style fightback is now being launched with plans to turn the heat onto the Hertfordshire-based giant.

The first blow will be struck tomorrow (Saturday, 12 January) at 2pm when hundreds of people are expected to join the No Mill Road Tesco march from the Guildhall to the former Wilco garage in Mill Road.

Then next Thursday, hundreds of people are set to pack St Philip’s Church in Mill Road when the council’s east area planning committee meets to decide on the application.

If all else fails extreme measures could turn the heat on Tesco – including a massive boycott.

Sonia Cooter, co-ordinator of the No Mill Road Tesco campaign, said: “We haven’t lost yet. We are conscious of the fact no consideration was made to the vitality and diversity of Mill Road.

“We are also gratified at the unprecedented number of objections made to the council and the fact there were no letters of support, despite Tesco claiming they had people saying they want a Tesco in Mill Road.”

She warned that Mill Road could become a “ghost area” if plans for the store are approved.

She said: “Tesco would be twice the size of the Londis convenience store just across the road. It is just not needed here. If it opens we could see a lot of empty shops. Mill Road could be like a ghost town.

“Tesco already has 13 shops in Cambridge and 51 per cent of the market – we don’t want Cambridge to become Tesco town. We have looked at a boycott of Tesco and various other measures.”

Abdul Arain, who owns Al-Amin food store and is chairman of Mill Road Residents and Traders’ Community Improvement Group, was saddened by the planners’ approval.

He said: “Nothing is written in stone yet and I would urge councillors to think long and hard about allowing such an establishment in Mill Road, which is a unique and diverse area which supports small independent shops.

“With a Tesco store, the street will begin to resemble many other streets in the corner of deprived inner cities and will make many shops redundant.”

Peter Carter, city council planning officer, explained some of the thinking behind the controversial recommendation.

He said: “There are differing arguments on the impact on other businesses. This is a relatively small extension adding to the rear of the building.

“There are a lot of issues that have to be taken into consideration as well as guidance from central Government and the Local Plan.”

Tesco bosses are delighted their plans have been backed by “experts”.

A spokesman said: “It was interesting that objections came from places like the Fox Studios in Australia and Germany. It is difficult to know how the store would impact on them.

“The planning experts noted that a number of the letters of objection were solely on the grounds that it was a Tesco.” He added: “Of course we are delighted that planning experts from Cambridge council have recommended our Mill Road plans for approval.

“It is important to note that the county highways officials have raised no objections on traffic grounds, either. We now await the decision of the planning committee next week.”

He claimed the new store would be good for the city. He said: “We know that some customers are travelling away from Mill Road at the moment for their food shopping.

“The new store will provide more convenience food choice that can help to keep people shopping locally.

“The store will create new jobs and we hope to be part of the community as we are elsewhere in Cambridge, such as in Cherry Hinton.”

Cambridge Evening News, 11th January 2008

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