Tesco, dirty tricks, and the battle over a new store in rural Norfolk

The Independent on Sunday

By Martin Hickman
Saturday, 10 July 2010

A bitter fight about a proposed superstore has turned uglier still

Campaigners fighting a decade-long battle against the arrival of a planned Tesco superstore claim they have been sabotaged by “dirty tricks” involving the fabrication of letters of support.

Claim and counter-claim have been flying thick and fast in Sheringham in Norfolk for years over the proposed arrival of the £62bn-a-year retail giant but the latest twist has surprised even seasoned observers.

Dozens of “residents” purporting to come from the town have had letters published in local newspapers in recent months, backing the arrival of Britain’s biggest retailer and criticising an alternative scheme put forward by a local landowner and Waitrose.

After becoming suspicious at what appeared to be a sudden groundswell of support for Tesco, campaigners began investigating the letters and asked residents and postmen whether they knew the correspondents.

No one did and publicly available electoral and phone records for the streets on which they claimed to live indicate that the pro-Tesco letter writers do not, actually, exist.

For the past 14 years, Tesco has been trying to open a supermarket in the middle of affluent North Norfolk. Seven years ago, North Norfolk District Council signed a commercial agreement with Tesco, undertaking not to assist or promote any rival scheme on its land or land owned by Norfolk County Council, including prime sites in the town centre.

Its planning officers have repeatedly backed Tesco’s proposal but in March councillors defied the advice by rejecting Tesco’s application for a 1,175 sq metre store – the fourth time in six years they have rejected a Tesco application…