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Full report on Tesco Pakefield planning blow to campaigners

The anti-Tesco demonstration outside the town hall

The anti-Tesco demonstration outside the town hall

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Campaigners reacted with dismay and anger this week as a 17-month battle to stop Tesco opening a new store in Pakefield ended in defeat.

There were boos and shouts of “shame” from the public gallery at Lowestoft Town Hall on Wednesday evening when Waveney district councillors agreed to quash an earlier ruling that looked to have blocked the company’s plans.

But the supermarket giant is now set to convert the Tramway Hotel in London Road into a new Tesco Express store in the face of huge local opposition.

Three weeks ago there were jubilant scenes when the council’s development control committee rejected legal advice by deciding The Tramway was a “mixed use “ business trading as a pub and a hotel – potentially forcing Tesco to submit a full planning application.

That was in stark contrast to the mood on Wednesday when a tight vote of 23-22 resulted in the quashing of the committee’s ruling.

The ruling was considered unlawful by the full council – despite strong arguments by members of the opposition Labour group that the interests of the people of Pakefield should come first, ahead of the threat of a legal challenge by Tesco. The new decision means Tesco can now move into the Victorian building, having already had applications for two rear extensions approved.

Bob Blizzard, chairman of Pakefield Opposed to Tesco, yesterday blasted the council for its decision, but admitted there was nothing else the campaign group could do to stop the company opening its fourth store in the Lowestoft area.

“I think it’s shameful decision,” he said. “The council has put politics before the people of Pakefield. It is just a shocking decision.

“It is difficult to see what we can do next now.”

Among those who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting was Kirkley councillor Gareth Douce, who proposed the “mixed use” motion approved by the development control committee on April 2.

That motion was later deemed unlawful by a barrister and a report by Waveney’s monitoring officer Arthur Charvonia recommended it be quashed – or the council could face a costly legal challenge from Tesco.

Mr Douce argued it was not set in stone the committee’s ruling was unlawful. He said: “I stand by my original proposal. I’m concerned about representing the views and concerns of local communities. This is about being here for the local community.

Peter Byatt, who represents Pakefield, also criticised the legal advice and went on to challenge the chief executive of Tesco to visit his ward to meet its residents.

To rounds of applause from the packed public gallery, Mr Byatt said: “It’s shame it has dragged on for so long. It makes a nonsense of what is right for the people. The law at this point is an ass.

“I’m not an expert on the law; I go by gut instinct.”

Julian Swainson, of the Harbour ward, said; “It (the legal advice) does not have a convincing force of argument behind it.”

In the legal advice provided to the council, barrister Josef Cannon said his view was that the motion which reclassfied The Tramway as a mixed use business was an “unwise one” and left the council in a “vulnerable position” to a Tesco challenge.

In presenting his recommendation to quash the original motion, Mr Charvonia told councillors the “critical issue” in the legal advice was that the development control committee had no powers to reclassify The Tramway.

But he told the full council: “You are, of course, entitled to vote according as you wish.”

Stephen Ardley, deputy leader of the council, said that while he understood it was an “emotional” issue, the council could not open itself to a legal challenge as the bill could reach £500,000 – meaning council tax bills might have to be increased by 10pc.

He then dismissed claims that his comments were “scaremongering”.

His fellow Conservative, Martin Parsons of the Wrentham ward, added: “What I value most is the rule of law. The rule of law must be upheld.”

During the debate, Mr Parsons proposed an amendment to Mr Charvonia’s recommendation that could stop situations similar to The Tramway application arising again.

His amendment, which was approved by councillors, stated Waveney’s leader Colin Law should write to the government demanding a change in planning law to make it harder for chains with companies at 20 or more stories to move into communities.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Tesco confirmed the company was preparing to move in to the Tramway Hotel and that its new store would create 20 jobs.

He said: “We think our store would be popular with local customers, providing shoppers the opportunity to pick up their everyday essentials, from a pint of milk to a loaf of bread.”

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