No to Tesco, say shop owners

Alice Bloch 8 October 2007

Campaigners are urging Cambridge students to get behind their bid to fend off a supermarket giant looking to set up shop in Mill Road. Tesco has set its sights on the old Wilco site in the Romsey town stretch of the road but independent traders are leading the charge to protect their livelihood and keep the area free from the multi-national corporation.

More than 240 people turned up at a meeting of the Mill Road Traders’ Network last week to voice their opposition to the planned Tesco Express store – including some students from the University.

Network chairman Steve Wynn, who is helping to organise the ‘No Mill Road Tesco’ campaign, said: “It was one of the best meetings Romsey has ever seen, and it was surprising to see how many youngsters there were. That was really encouraging.”

Because the site was previously used for retail, Tesco does not need to win fresh approval for the space to be developed into shops. But protesters believe they can thwart Tesco because of the secondary effects of the development – including increased lorry traffic, garish lighting and the harm caused to Romsey’s independent traders and community.

Cambridge City Council planning officers have already batted back three applications from the supermarket chain – involving a new shop front, lights and a single-storey rear extension – but could only confirm the plans were classed as “invalid”.

It is possible the applications were lacking sufficient information, but the campaigners believe it is a sign they can win their fight. They have also taken heart from the success of the Unthank Road Group in Norwich, who managed to prevent Tesco from opening in Norwich last year. Tesco dominates more than 30% of the UK grocery market and Mr Wynn, who has lived and traded in Romsey for 42 years, says the supermarket group’s proposal is the “biggest threat” to the community he can remember. He is now trying to increase student support for the group’s efforts, but is aware of the potential lure of having a big-name chain so close.

He said: “They don’t realise what it will actually mean. They think it will mean cheap food, but it won’t.” Romsey Lib Dem councillor Alice Douglas said: “Opening a Tesco store could put some of these stores out of business and change Mill Road for the worse.” And a customer in Mr Wynn’s hardware store Cutlacks said: “I love this community. I’ve lived here for years and I want it to survive. I’m so angry about this, just furious.”

Anyone wishing to object to the Tesco plans must write to Angela Biggs at Cambridge City Council by October 12. Visit www.nomillroadtesco.org.

Alice Bloch