Oliver Letwin MP helps present Sherborne’s petition to Cllr Robert Gould – April 2013
I am sure that the vast majority of those reading the Western Gazette this week will have greeted the news on the fate of Tesco’s Sherborne Hotel proposal with considerable relief.
There can’t, I think, have been a more organised or more effective campaign against a particular proposal anywhere in England.
It is not surprising, in the light of the manifest feeling in the town as well as the clear indications from the district council, that the senior management of Tesco decided to develop elsewhere. One has to remember that Sherborne is a town in which – as well as a large range of smaller shops – two supermarkets have been happily accommodated without (so far as I am aware) any significant objection for many years.
This is not a town that ignores the benefits of shopping or of business in general. On the contrary – as well as being one of the most beautiful country towns in England – Sherborne has traditionally been business-friendly. It is indeed part of the charm of the town that it is a living, breathing thing and not a museum-piece. So this episode illustrates rather well a fundamental point about the attitude of people in rural England to new development and business.
Where business brings prosperity and jobs in a way that fits the look and feel of the place and strengthens the “retail proposition” of a town, it is welcomed. Where these attributes are missing – and the aesthetic character of the building as well as the effect of its positioning on the prosperity of the town centre are adverse – the development will be roundly rejected by the local population. The good news is that this was recognised eventually by Tesco itself – thereby avoiding a drawn-out planning battle.
This whole episode demonstrates the effectiveness of calm, reasoned, persistent activity. Those who organised the massive petition didn’t engage in hyperbole or attack the motives of those making the proposal. They simply identified the good reasons why this proposal was not suitable in this place. They thereby gained the support of a multitude, which was then skilfully marshalled in such a way that even a commercial giant such as Tesco could not sensibly ignore it.
A good case, well and calmly presented, is the way to proceed in a civilised society. This campaign was a very striking example of exactly that – so congratulations are in order. I am sure that this is a view which will be shared by many in Sherborne. And indeed by many others who love the old town and want to see its character as a vibrant market town preserved and enhanced with suitable development.
I await with interest the next thrilling instalment – whatever that may prove to be.
As published in the Western Gazette 12 Sep 2013