The Politics Show East
Tesco supermarket in Sheringham ... done deal?
It looks likely that shoppers in the quaint North Norfolk seaside town of Sheringham will soon have a Tesco superstore ... whether they want one or not.
The local council's hands are tied by a legal agreement the electorate knew nothing about.
The agreement, which prevents North Norfolk District Council from allowing anyone other than Tesco to build on council land, was signed in May 2003.
The majority of councillors, and the people who voted them in, only got to hear about the deal nearly three years later, in April 2006.
Until the moment when the agreement was made public the democratic processes on the council had resulted in a rejection of Tesco's proposal for a superstore.
This was a source of great celebration for local traders and a large proportion of local people.
Six months later the council performed a U-turn on the issue and voted in favour of Tesco's application, much to the dismay of members of the Sheringham Preservation Society.
The society has been fighting against the arrival of the retail giant for years.
The council leader, Simon Partridge, says an internal investigation is going on into what seems like a secret contract which was signed by council staff in 2003, before the current councillors were sworn in.
Also protestors have written to the Local Government Ombudsman calling for a formal inquiry into what they claim is maladministration.
The Lib Dem MP for North Norfolk, Norman Lamb, says he is deeply concerned about the legal constraints the district councillors find themselves in.
On this week's Politics Show in the East David Woodthorpe reports from Sheringham and digs deeper into a complex affair which, on the face of it, seems to undermine the process of local democracy.
The government recently referred the big four supermarkets (Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury and Morrisons) to the Competition Commission.
The Office of Fair Trading is concerned that there are features of the market that might be "preventing, restricting or distorting competition and thereby harming consumers."
The large stores say the Competition Commission investigation is unnecessary and argue that the findings will show that the main beneficiaries are consumers.
And in response to the planning row in Sheringham a Tesco spokesperson said, "the agreement with the council was signed in 2003.
"It precludes the council from promoting an alternative council owned site for supermarket development but does not prevent the council granting planning permission to other retail developments on non-council land.
"It is therefore wrong to suggest that the agreement means that no other rival supermarket could develop a store in Sheringham."
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Politics Show, Sunday 21 May 2006 at 12.00pm.
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