EXCLUSIVE: Curtis pulls out of crucial planning committee saying he cannot support officers’ recommendation but promises his views will be heard

A COUNCILLOR at the centre of the Tesco v Sainsbury’s stores war in Whittlesey has sensationally pulled out of next week’s crucial planning committee that will decide who wins.

A COUNCILLOR at the centre of the Tesco v Sainsbury’s stores war in Whittlesey has sensationally pulled out of next week’s crucial planning committee that will decide who wins.

Councillor Martin Curtis, a Whittlesey district and county councillor, told me on a surprise visit to our March office today that he can “now be freer” to speak his mind and will do so.

He also promised he would be publishing this weekend the results of a survey he’s conducted over which of the two stores is most favoured by the people of Whittlesey.

“I will attend and speak at next Wednesday’s meeting but as a ward member and I will not be voting, although I must emphasis I remain a member of the planning committee.”

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His bombshell announcement follows a meeting earlier this year when the decision over which application to approve was deferred whilst a fresh look was taken at the permission already obtained by Harrier Developments on behalf of Tesco for a store in Station Road.

The likely viability of that site has been challenged by Sainsbury’s since they claim the level crossings on the approach will deter many from shopping there if the store is built.

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Cllr Curtis persuaded the committee to postpone a decision for a fresh retail assessment of the Station Road site – paid for at a cost of �8,000 to Fenland Council- but he says he now found officers making the same recommendation to approve Tesco.

“Anyone who was at the last meeting will know there is no way I can support the principle Tesco should be approved because of the existence of the planning permission down Station Road,” he said.

“I can see circumstances where the evidence would show Tesco is the right solution being closer to Whittlesey and protecting the town centre but it is quite clear there is the element of pre determination because officer recommendation has not changed.”

Sainsbury’s and Tesco remain locked in argument over adjoining sites in Eastrea Road but planning officers are recommending the committee approves the Tesco application and rejects Sainsbury’s. Cllr Curtis believes next week’s meeting will not be the end of the matter.

“I know a court case is coming and I want that to be about supermarkets, not about me,” he said.

Cllr Curtis rejected accusations of “chickening out” and said he had never been afraid of tough decisions in the past even those which went against public opinion.

“However there is arguably a strong element of pre determination by me. My mind is made up. There are no circumstances in which I can support the recommendation made by officers.”

The councillor – a former chairman of the planning committee- said he had a lengthy meeting yesterday with Ian Hunt, Fenland’s solicitor, and had also spoken to Council Leader Alan Melton.

“Alan was very supportive of what I had been doing and understood I was fearful of pre determination given the officer recommendation,” he said.

Cllr Curtis said he had desperately wanted to sit on the committee and vote “because I know planning and I know how it works”.

He added that he had conducted a survey after being bombarded with people wanting to express their opinion.

“It avoided the need for people to poke me in the chest everywhere I went in Whittlesey to tell me what they thought,” he said.

His survey will show overwhelming support for Sainsbury’s as too did an earlier snap poll by Independent Whittlesey town councillor Roy Gerstner.

He said today his ‘mini survey’ of 100 people showed 42 per cent support for Sainsbury’s and only 24 per cent backing Tesco.

“Some 88 per cent of those questioned thought road/traffic issues would be the biggest issue to contend with,” he said.

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