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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 June 2006, 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK
Officer signed secret Tesco pact
by Nic Rigby
BBC News Website, Norwich

The site of planned Tesco store
Tesco wants to develop the council block of flats
A secret agreement binding a local authority to Tesco was signed by a senior officer on behalf of the council, it has been revealed.

North Norfolk District Council's executive committee gave authority for the signing of the deal in May 2003, a council report is expected to conclude.

The report is expected to be published at the end of June.

In a statement the council said the agreement did not involve planning officers or the planning committee.

But it has admitted it was an officer who signed the agreement with Tesco.

Roy Haynes, who was an executive committee member until he lost his seat in the May 2003 election, said that despite the council's findings about the executive committee, he was unaware of any negotiations with Tesco.

"Not at any time to my knowledge was any negotiating done with Tesco," he said.

The agreement was signed between one administration leaving office after the 1 May elections in 2003 and the newly elected members taking up their posts in the new executive committee.

The agreement prevents the council from allowing anyone other than Tesco to build on council land.

North Norfolk District Council
North Norfolk District Council has investigated the pact

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

After the agreement became public the council ordered an inquiry.

The report, being written by the council's monitoring officer and audit and performance manager, will be made public at the full council meeting on Wednesday, 28 June.

Council leader Simon Partridge said: "We all want to get to the bottom of this, to understand its causes and ramifications. We also need to make sure that our processes are properly transparent in the future."

The Local Government Ombudsman has formally asked council for information on the case.

'Not opposed to rivals'

A council spokesman said the council's own report will form the basis of that response, after which the Ombudsman will decide whether further investigation is needed.

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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