The saga of a new Tesco supermarket in South Molton has been on-going since 2004. Tesco want to build a store of approx 30,000 sq ft.
On 30 th January 2012 an employee at the SMR Phoenix Re-use Shop launched a petition and gathered 2,300 signatures with help from campaign group 'SAY NO TO TESCO IN SOUTH MOLTON'. Because the petition collected over 1,000 signatures it was debated at full Council on 4th April 2012. The petition read -
We, the undersigned, oppose plans to build a TESCO supermarket anywhere in the Central Car Park/Norrington Yard/Livestock Market area of South Molton. We urge North Devon District Council & South Molton Town Council to safeguard SMR Phoenix Re-use Shop from redevelopment. We unreservedly support SMR Phoenix - and the important environmental service it provides for South Molton and wider North Devon community; refurbish ‘our’ re-use shop - not demolish it. NO SELL-OUT TO TESCO - every signature helps.
In South Molton, the Council funded Molton Area 2000 (MA2K), a limited company, to consult the community on future development plans including the plan to build a new supermarket in the centre of South Molton. Residents felt that their views against a supermarket were being ignored by the Council when the Council issued planning guidance in November 2004 fixing supermarket development on a site that Tesco were in the process of buying. This site had not even been considered by the consultation process conducted by MA2K. This site is surrounded by listed buildings. Residents felt that the site was unsuitable and that the Council had not gone through sufficient consultation in the process leading up to the planning guidance, which they thought would effectively allow Tesco to get permission for its site once an application was submitted (there still has not been one).
After the Council's Planning Guidance was passed, residents formed a group called Residents Against Tesco Supermarkets (RATS) to fight against the plans for a Tesco. Over 250 people attended a meeting of the area committee, but felt they weren't being listened to when a councillor threatened to close the meeting. Resident Diana Amory said "we thought we were here for a public meeting to discuss and debate the supermarket but we have been stitched up," and Councillor John Moore wrote to the North Devon Gazette and Advertiser, "I feel most embarrassed at the lamentable manner in which the meeting was conducted.... the tenor of proceedings was typical of the manner in which the whole question of the redevelopment of South Molton has been handled by NDDC."
Following this meeting, RATS called their own public meeting on 9th March 2005. At the meeting, more people expressed the view that they had not been fully consulted, and nearly three quarters voted against a supermarket. Aware that neither MA2K’s consultation nor their own represented a full share of the town’s opinion, RATS pushed for a referendum on whether people wanted a supermarket. In May 2005 a formal request was submitted by the Town Council which the District Council rejected after a discussion.
Tesco currently owns land in South Molton, which is leased to South Molton Recycle, but needs more land to build its store. According to an article in the North Devon Gazette, 30th April 2008 the Executive of North Devon District Council agreed to sell part of the Central Car Park to Tesco, but the sale of the land has stalled. In September 2008, it reported that money from the sale of land to Tesco would be used to re-house the livestock market . The site of the livestock market was ear-marked for a foodstore in a development brief by North Devon District Council in 2006. Please see an article in thisisexeter.co.uk, 16th February 2009
Sainsbury's owns the former Somerfield store in town and Morrisons has been in discussions with South Molton Town Council about building a new store in the "central development area" but have been told by North Devon Council that this is not acceptable as it will disturb medieval burgage plots, but residents point out these were there in 2004 when the land was identified for re-development. Residents feel the Council has been determined to get the £2-3million Tesco has been offering and will not consider alternative plans.