A TESCO superstore is threatening to undermine work by residents to have a say in future development of their town.
Thame was one of the first towns in Oxfordshire to adopt a Neighbourhood Plan, allowing residents to help chart future building.
But now one of its main policies, to “locate new retail development in the town centre”, is being challenged by the supermarket giant’s plans to build a store on the outskirts of town.
Hundreds of residents, shop owners and Thame Town Council have opposed Tesco’s plan, saying they do not fit the Neighbourhood Plan.
And, since the plan was adopted by South Oxfordshire District Council, it should constitute a legal planning document.
The council’s planning committee is required to take it into consideration when making decisions, but how much weight it decides to give it is yet to be seen.
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A group of residents worried about the plans set up a campaign group, Thame Centre First, and are now trying to convince the committee to reject the supermarket’s proposals.
Spokesman Andy Slater said: “We are not anti-Tesco, nor anti-supermarkets: we campaign against edge-of-town developments that threaten Thame town centre’s viability and are contrary to Thame Neighbourhood Plan, which was contributed to and voted for by large numbers of people.”
The group says Thame town centre is already well-served by a Co-op, a Sainsbury’s and a Waitrose, a “thriving” weekly market and independent and national retailers.
Campaigners cite a report by South Oxfordshire District Council that concluded that even with housing growth in the next 12 years, Thame would only need 4,000 sq m of extra retail space.
Tesco is proposing to create 4,765 sq m of “shop floorspace” with its store off Howland Road.
Mr Slater pointed out that 76 per cent of people in a town-wide referendum had voted in favour of the neighbourhood plan and during consultations, people had frequently expressed the desire to retain the mix of independent shops in the town centre.
Thame Town Council recommended refusal of Tesco’s plans by 10 votes to two in August this year.
And in October, a report on Thame’s retail capacity from Carter Jonas, commissioned by the town council, concluded that “a larger-format traditional food store... could have a significant harmful impact on the town centre”.
The district council, however, has now commissioned its own independent study into what impact the store could have.
Tesco spokesman Simon Petar said: “Our proposed new store in Thame has generated a good deal of support, particularly among thosewanting additional choice.
“Currently a large number of shoppers travel elsewhere for their weekly shop and we hope our store will encourage shoppers to remain in Thame for the benefit of the of the economy.”
The planning committee aims to make its final decision on the plans by Monday, November 30.
See the plans online at www.southoxon.gov.uk using reference number P15/S1637/O.