ANTI-TESCO protesters who presented an 11,000-name petition to councillors on Friday say they will continue to fight plans for a store in Sherborne.
Peter Neal, chairman of the Keep Sherborne Viable group, the umbrella group which encompasses all groups in opposition of Tesco’s plans, said they will keep up the momentum as the town awaits a formal planning application from the retail giant.
He said: “We shall keep up the pressure as much as possible and we will continue to treat this as a key concern.
“The petition has shown the strength of feeling in the town and our focus is to ensure a hotel is maintained on that site.”
While some believe widespread opposition to the plans, culminating in a protest march through Sherborne which attracted national media attention, could have stalled the chain, Mr Neal believes it could be a tactic to see if the campaign dies down.
The company initially suggested a planning application could be submitted as early as March, but Tesco is still yet to hold pre-application discussions with West Dorset District Council’s planning department, a common practice with large-scale development proposals.
Melanie Chiswell, corporate affairs manager for Tesco, said the pledge was an approximate time-scale.
She said: “There was a large consultation and we are still analysing the evidence in order to present this with our application.”
The campaign has been described as Britain’s biggest protest against an out-of-town shopping development before a formal planning application.
The petition opposing any plans to redevelop the Sherborne Hotel has more signatures than the town’s population.
Robert Gould, leader of the district council, received the petition at the authority’s offices in Dorchester.
He said: “This is the largest petition ever presented to the council and sends a powerful message that Tesco is not wanted in the town.
“I will do all I can to ensure our local plan policies are enforced and that we retain a hotel on that site.
“The petition will form part of our evidence should Tesco eventually submit a formal planning application.”
Oliver Letwin, West Dorset MP, said the petition was extraordinary and the best organised in England.
He said: “What is needed on this site is a beautiful building that would avoid drawing trade out of Sherborne’s remarkable town centre.”
Campaign group member Liz Burt said: “I can’t tell you how happy we are with the community and business combined efforts. I am amazed that in 16 weeks we have received such a phenomenal response.”
No Thanks Tesco has now launched a national campaign to limit Tesco’s power over town centre economies as a member of the Future High Streets Forum.