Aldeburgh: Business chiefs fear new Tesco store in Saxmundham Road could destroy ‘unique character’ of town

BUSINESS leaders last night expressed fears that one of Suffolk’s most prestigious seaside resorts could lose its unique character should Tesco be given the go-ahead to open a supermarket in the town.

BUSINESS leaders last night expressed fears that one of Suffolk’s most prestigious seaside resorts could lose its unique character should Tesco be given the go-ahead to open a supermarket in the town.

The retail giant has revealed plans to open a store on the derelict Crossways Garage site in Saxmundham Road, Aldeburgh - next door to the Co-op.

It is the latest bid by Tesco to move in to east Suffolk, having opened stores in Southwold and most recently Saxmundham.

Plans for nearby Leiston were also scrapped following strong concerns from local traders, while proposals have previously been but forward for a store in Halesworth.

The proposed scheme, which includes five apartments above the potential store, is for a Tesco Express that would measure 2,700 sq ft of retail space - around half the size of the neighbouring Co-op.

The garage site has been derelict for a number of years and there have been calls for it to be redeveloped.

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Business leaders and members of the public were invited along to the community centre yesterday to view the proposals.

While some welcomed the increased choice and competition, others questioned the need for another supermarket - especially with two Co-op stores already in the town and a Tesco and Waitrose in nearby Saxmundham.

Naomi Tarry, chairman of the Aldeburgh Business Association, said: “People visit Aldeburgh because it is unique. We have a number of high quality, independent stores that offer shoppers and visitors something a little bit different. Our concern is that the presence of Tesco could take some of that away.

“We have a wonderful business community and the danger is, with big chains moving in, that we could lose our identity. Once one of the major retailers arrives it could lead to others.

“We want to keep Aldeburgh unique and will be fighting hard to retain our independence.”

Tony Bone, chairman of the Aldeburgh Society, said they have long wanted the garage site to be re-developed but questioned whether the proposed scheme was sustainable.

“We already have two convenience stores in the town - do we really need a third?,” he said. “We are just not sure if it’s viable.”

The Tesco Express could be open from 6am to 11pm and bosses claim it would create around 20 part time jobs for local people.

Clive Thompson, project co-ordinator on behalf of developers Pigeon, said they had asked other retailers to take the space - such as Sainsbury’s and Waitrose - but Tesco were the only ones to come forward.

“We acknowledge there will be competition for the Co-op but competition is good for the customer,” he said. “We are determined to be transparent and will continue to consult with members of the public.”

Mr Thompson said they were yet to submit a planning application but it was hoped - if given the go ahead - building work could start in the autumn, with the scheme complete in time for the summer of 2013.

A number of residents who visited the exhibition raised concerns about the initial letter sent out by Tesco informing people of yesterday’s event.

The letter, which was only received on Friday, did not contain a date for when the showcase would be happening.

Carol Leslie, from Tesco, admitted there had been an issue with the letters but confirmed the retailer would be holding another, more formal meeting, in around two or three weeks time to ensure everyone’s views were heard.

“It has been very, very busy,” she said. “A number of people would like to see a more of formal presentation and that is something we have agreed to do. We now need to consult with the whole of Aldeburgh.

“A lot of people have told us they currently travel out of town to get their shopping and that there is a lack of choice. We believe the store will be very popular and don’t see it as direct competition with the independent stores. Our competition will be the Co-op. We want to keep people shopping in the town and stop people getting in their cars and going elsewhere.”

Roger Grosvenor, executive officer – retail for the East of England Co-operative Society, said: “The Society welcomes competition, and we are confident that our loyal members and customers will continue to support their local co-op which has served their community for many years.”

TESCO’S proposals to open a new store in Aldeburgh have sparked fierce debate within the town.

While some see it as an overdevelopment that could spell the end for independent traders, others have welcomed the increased choice and prospect of cheaper food bills.

Andrew Campbell, of Victoria Road, said the development was “superflous”.

“I am perfectly happy with the provision of shops in the town as it is,” he said.

Meanwhile Judith Foord, who lives opposite the Moot Hall, was among a number of people who raised a variety of concerns relating to increased traffic on the nearby roundabout, inadequate parking and access. “I’m dead against it,” she said.

Jean Booker, of nearby Church Farm, added: “It will change the nature of the town. We already have two Co-ops and some excellent independent stores, why do we need more?”

But Elaine Canning, who lives in Franklin Road, said she would like to see the store open as it would offer an improved choice.

“I don’t think it would effect other businesses in the town,” she added. “Because they are independent they offer something a little bit different and I think people will always shop there.”

Mum of two Ali Inglis, who also lives in Franklin Road, agreed, saying: “I like it. For me, as a mum with a young family, I like to think it will make my shopping cheaper. At the moment I tend to get it on-line as by the time I’ve driven elsewhere it works out too expensive.

“The Co-op has a bit of a monopoly - we have two stores here and another in Leiston - and people don’t have a lot of choice. By opening a Tesco it would increase competition and maybe offer shoppers better value for money.”