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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 May 2006, 21:11 GMT 22:11 UK
Ombudsman examines 'Tesco pact'
by Nic Rigby
BBC News Website, Norwich

The site of planned Tesco store
Tesco wants to develop the council block of flats
The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) is examining the case of a council which signed a secret agreement which binds the local authority to Tesco.

The agreement, which prevents North Norfolk District Council from allowing anyone other than Tesco to build on council land, was signed in May 2003.

Most councillors and local people, many against a Tesco in Sheringham, only heard about the deal three years later.

Tesco said the council could allow stores built on non-council land.

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 at Sheringham on the site of a council block of flats.

Local traders feared it could damage businesses in the town.

North Norfolk District Council
North Norfolk District Council has started an inquiry into the pact

Six months later the council performed a U-turn on the issue and voted in favour of Tesco's application.

Now assistant ombudsman Barbara Hedley has told BBC News that a complaint has been received from a man from Norfolk and the office of the LGO has written to North Norfolk District Council seeking further information on this issue.

"We have put the complaint to the council to ask them to respond first," she said.

Openness pledge

The council leader, Simon Partridge, said an internal investigation into the agreement, which was signed under a previous administration, was in its early stages and the council would fully co-operate with any LGO investigation.

"We want to be as open as possible," he said.

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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