Aldeburgh: Campaigners warn other towns to be ‘on their guard’ after Tesco store is given the go ahead

CAMPAIGNERS have warned other towns to be on their guard against the threat of national supermarket chains after a store was controversially given the all clear in their picturesque seaside resort.

Despite concerns over potential flood risk Suffolk Coastal District Council (SCDC) yesterday gave the go ahead for a Tesco Express to open on the site of the derelict Crossways Garage in Saxmundham Road, on the outskirts of Aldeburgh.

The application, which was tabled by developers Pigeon and also includes five flats and 18 permanent car parking spaces, had generated fierce debate in the town.

The majority of representations received by SCDC were against the application but there was also a considerable body in favour.

Councillors were reminded that under current law the strength of public opinion was not a legitimate reason to refuse the application and that any decision had to be made on planning merits alone.

Following a three and a half hour discussion - where members heard representations both for and against the scheme - SCDC’s North Area Development Control Sub-Committee voted five to four in favour, subject to various conditions including flood mitigation.

Expressing her disappointment after the meeting Naomi Tarry, chairman of Aldeburgh Business Association, said other towns should be wary.

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“I think other market towns should be on their guard,” she said. “There was overwhelming public opposition to this application yet these views were not taken into consideration, because they weren’t considered to be legitimate planning reasons. Why should such strength of local opinion be ignored by the planning process? We saw the same thing happen in Southwold with Costa Coffee. I firmly believe there now needs to be a change in the planning law to acknowledge the strength of local opinion.”

She added: “What this whole experience has shown us is that people really love their independent shops. The decision will galvanise the way we work together - support for our local retailers is now more important than ever.”

Her comments were echoed by Michael Toppin, who heads the Keep Aldeburgh Special Campaign (KASC), which represents 350 households.

“The decision is not in line with local sentiment,” he said. “Suffolk Coastal has failed to understand the affect on the viability and vitality of the town. The quality of debate was inadequate.”

He would now be investigating the possibility of referring the decision to the local government ombudsman, he added.

But Bob Snell, chairman of the sub-committee, said there were no sound planning grounds to oppose the application.

“As there are no vacant units in the town centre, Aldeburgh is considered by retail planning experts to be a viable shopping area, and a new food retailer should not have any negative impact on the vitality and viability of the town centre,” he said. “Our planning officers did question whether the flats above the retail unit should be built as it is in a flood-risk area, but having considered all the evidence, the committee took the view that as the Environment Agency was satisfied that the flood risk could be adequately mitigated, the overall community benefits of the development were more important. Subject to certain conditions about access, parking and manoeuvring, county highways also had no objection.”

BOSSES behind the proposed scheme for a Tesco store and five flats on the outskirts of Aldeburgh last night welcomed the decision to give it the go ahead.

Will Stanton, director of Pigeon, said it would re-invigorate a long standing eyesore at the entrance to the town.

“It [the committee’s debate] was a stimulating and positive discussion with many council members taking an active interest,” he said. “We are looking forward to satisfying the necessary conditions and delivering the scheme, which we hope to start work on at the start of the summer.

“It is a positive, sustainable development on a derelict brownfield site that - at a time of recession - will bring 20 jobs to the area and provide people with more choice when it comes to their shopping.”

During the meeting councillors heard there were a number of people who wanted to see the store built, including Margaret Baldwin, who has lived in Aldeburgh for 45 years. She said a store would give people “much needed” choice and would be of real benefit to elderly and disabled people in the town.

DURING yesterday’s committee meeting councillors heard representations against the proposed development.

Aldeburgh Town Council, Aldeburgh Society and Aldeburgh Business Association all objected, along with district councillor Marianne Fellowes.

Concerns centred around the affect the proposed store could have on the town’s retailers and the impact of increased traffic on what was already believed to be a “complex junction” and roundabout.

Ms Fellowes also questioned the consultation run by Pigeon, while also stressing there was no way of guaranteeing the jobs would go to local people.

She was also concerned that none of the flats were classed as “affordable” and also believed people thought the Tesco store would offer cheaper shopping - when in fact it was more expensive than the Co-op.

Speaking after the vote she said: “I do fear for the future of Aldeburgh in light of this misguided decision.”

Sara Fox, deputy mayor of Aldeburgh, speaking on behalf of the town council, said the decision did not appear “in any way” to reflect the interests of the town.

Meanwhile Tony Bone, chairman of the Aldeburgh Society, said he felt Suffolk County Council’s highways department had done a “particularly poor job” in assessing the traffic issues.

Resident Laurie Wiseman, echoed his comments and has now sent a formal complaint to the highways department.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council said they looked very carefully at all highways aspects and found no grounds to recommend refusal.