By Craig Robinson
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
CAMPAIGNERS fighting plans for a controversial new supermarket in one of Suffolk’s most popular seaside resorts have been accused of creating a “them and us” divide.
Suffolk-based developer Pigeon claims a petition against its proposal for a Tesco store in Aldeburgh includes names of people living as far as away as Strasbourg – and questioned “what do they know about a busy working mum in the town?”
But those leading the battle against the supermarket giant have stood by their arguments for rejecting the new store, which they say could irreparably damage independent traders.
Bosses at Pigeon Investment Management have tabled a planning application with Suffolk Coastal District Council to redevelop the derelict Crossways Garage site in Saxmundham Road.
As well as a Tesco Express store the scheme includes five flats and 17 parking spaces.
The plans have led to fierce debate in the town - with some welcoming the extra choice and cheaper prices they believe a new supermarket will bring and others fearing the impact such a development could have on traders in the High Street.
Aldeburgh Business Association (ABA) has seen more than 1,000 people sign its petition in support of the town’s independent shops.
But last night Pigeon’s Will Stanton questioned whether it was truly reflective of local people’s views and claimed a “them and us” divide was emerging.
“Petitioners against the development are from places as far away as Berkhamsted, London and Strasbourg,” he said. “What do they know about a busy working mum in Aldeburgh who wants to see more choice in her home town to make the family food budget go further?
“Visitors to the town can’t really be expected to understand the needs of the residents, and it is not right that they should be attempting to influence decisions about a place they don’t live in.”
Mr Stanton said there were signs that lines of support and opposition were being drawn along economic lines, and that households on a tighter budget tended to be more in favour of competition in the town. He said so far they had received more than 200 letters of support as well as inquiries from more than 30 people asking about jobs at the new store.
“Some people in Aldeburgh don’t have transport, and find it difficult to use public transport to reach supermarkets elsewhere,” he continued. “We have had letters from disabled people who say they can only shop in the town, and young mothers who find using the local bus services difficult.
“The addition of more competition in this area will push prices down and force the existing stores to up their game.”
But the claims have been strongly refuted by Naomi Tarry, chairman of ABA, who said they had been inundated with responses from local people.
“We have been overwhelmed and heartened by the response from people who live in Aldeburgh,” she said. “They have been voicing their concerns to us about the proposed supermarket development and the negative impact it would have on Aldeburgh’s independent traders and the town as a whole.
“More than 1,000 people have signed our petition to show their support for Aldeburgh’s independent shops. We have been very open and honest about the fact that we are not excluding people who don’t live in Aldeburgh from signing, but I can confirm that over half of the signatures are from local people, so that shows very strong local support.
“We are now in the hands of the planning department at Suffolk Coastal District Council who will ultimately be the ones to make the decision, based on planning issues.”
Many retailers in the town have also voiced fears that the introduction of Tesco will destroy the “unique character” of Aldeburgh’s High Street, while others feel a third supermarket - in addition to the two existing Co-op stores - is unnecessary. Others have rejected claims that prices at the proposed Tesco Express store will be cheaper.
Suffolk Coastal District Council has so far received 204 responses to the application - 199 against and five in favour.
A spokesman said no date had yet been set for when the proposal would be discussed and that it would be assessed on the basis of how it accords with local and national policy.
“Anyone can make comments on any planning application but for those views to be relevant they need to address the strict and limited criteria that have to be used when making any planning decision,” he said. “As such, the weight of opinion either way on a particular application while significant is not as relevant as whether the proposed development complies or not with planning policies.”