Sherborne in Dorset is celebrating its landmark campaign success since the announcement by Tesco MD, Chris Bush, on 5th September that Tesco has withdrawn its plans to re-develop a popular hotel site in the town and replace it with an edge-of-town 28,000 sq ft superstore positioned on a 6 acre site at the gateway to the historic market town.
Sherborne’s protest campaign, led by media activity on www.nothankstesco.co.uk and supported by the Keep Sherborne Viable Action Group (including Sherborne & Society CPRE, local businesses, tourism groups, schools and residents) was ‘unprecedented’, according to the Leader of West Dorset District Council Robert Gould, with the largest ever petition of 11,324 signatures presented to cabinet minister and local MP, Oliver Letwin, at the pre-planning stage. The campaign has created national and worldwide media interest along with the support of leading business and retail industry experts, notable journalists and celebrities.
According to Chris Bush’s statement it is assumed to be ‘a foregone conclusion’ that Tesco eventually builds a store whenever it announces that intention (and historically this is true). Therefore Sherborne has been held up as a landmark example of what is possible when a professionally organised group of business people and individuals gets together to stage a carefully executed and sustained protest – engaging with the public, local authorities, leading opinion makers, national media and top Directors of the opposition (in this case Tesco) from the outset. The swell of public opinion, together with a robust Local Plan and a council prepared to enforce local planning policies has meant Tesco really had no other choice but to back down.
At every point in the campaign, the Keep Sherborne Viable Action Group has planned its activities to counter Tesco on a like for like basis. From expertly managed social media campaigns to conducting its own business and highways surveys, the group has called on a range of local skills with businesses who have given their professional time and resources freely to support the town. A combination of smart marketing that attracted a worldwide audience, top-level commercial activity and an in-depth knowledge of the planning process has challenged Tesco at every stage.
Chris Bush says that when Tesco ‘says it will consult with communities’ it means it and in Sherborne’s case it has listened to and acknowledged the town’s protest. We extend our thanks to Tesco for that, and for its communication throughout the process. We hope it is the start of a changing mindset for the multi-national retailer, and an example to other multi-nationals, as we enter a new period in the history of Britain’s changing high street. A period when people want more say about what happens in their local towns.
The future is now looking bright for Sherborne’s historic and unique town centre; and for its tourism industry and high street economy. New business friendships have been formed as a result of working together on the campaign and number of very positive initiatives are being discussed to promote what the town has to offer. The wealth of places to stay and eat (including the recently rescued Sherborne Hotel); its great independent shops and high street businesses, its markets and local producers and its wonderful range of arts and cultural events will be the focus of attention now that the prospect of an edge-of-town superstore has been overthrown. Thank you to everyone who has supported us and here’s to the future vitality of Sherborne!
Read Tesco MD Chris Bush’s Blog Announcement of 5th September, including news on Sherborne HERE9th September 2013