Retail giant Tesco was tonight (Tuesday) given the thumbs up by Harborough District Council’s planning committee to build a new out-of-town supermarket in Market Harborough.
In front of a packed Three Swans Hotel conference suite, councillors on the committee expressed their concerns over granting permission to Tesco but conceded they had no legal powers to refuse it.
Several speakers addressed the committee speaking both for and against Tesco’s plan for the former Focus site in Rockingham Road.
A few of the anti-Tesco speakers talked with emotion and passion, with town businessman of 53 years Ian Joule saying Tesco was a ‘disease’ and would ‘suck all the life out of the town centre’. He had earlier carried out an overnight candle-lit vigil on The Square in town to campaign against Tesco’s proposal.
Resident Michael Weedon, who is also the deputy chief executive officer and communications director for the British Independent Retailers’ Association, said: “It took 800 years to grow this beautiful market town and could take one night to flush it down the Welland.”
Some councillors expressed woe about the bind they found themselves in.
Cllr Chris Holyoak said: “The consumer wants choice but does it come at too high a price? I think this will alter considerably the dynamic of our town.”
But he later added: “Tesco’s legal team will wipe the floor with us.”
Cllr Grahame Spendlove-Mason also said he feared for Harborough’s ‘vibrant town centre’ but said ‘the planning inspectorate will be looking’.
A motion was eventually proposed to put the bid forward for approval by Cllr Derek Evans and seconded by Cllr David Beatty.
When it came to the vote, there were five councillors who voted against it and five in favour meaning the casting vote went to the committee chairman Rosita Page who had that very evening just been voted into the role of planning committee chairman.
“This puts me in a very difficult position,” she said, before voting to approve the plan.
There was clapping and booing from the public gallery after the decision was reached.
Some people amongst the 80-strong gallery shouted ‘rot in hell’, ‘disgrace’ and ‘don’t vote for them next time’ as they exited the conference suite.
In a last-ditch bid for a reprieve, Liberal Democrat councillor Phil Knowles attempted to ‘call in’ the decision but was told by officers that there were no grounds to do so.
See this Thursday’s Mail for a full report on tonight’s meeting.
Story by Alex Blackwell.