EXCLUSIVE: ‘Gobsmacked’ Sainsbury’s left wondering what happened as 28-minute volte face lets in Tesco as well

SAINSBURY’S officials emerged from Fenland Hall tonight “gobsmacked” after watching councillors do a 28 minute volte face and APPROVE Tesco’s bid for a superstore next to them in Whittlesey.

The planning committee voted to clear the decks for both Tesco and Sainsbury’s despite the strongest warning from Ian Hunt, Fenland Council’s chief solicitor.

He said that “if you review the decision it could be considered unfair if you do that today without allowing input from residents.

“If you are minded to rehear the application I recommend strongly that both applications need to be reconsidered. An alternative option is to determine it today and have a full and clear debate of the issues.”

What then happened, however, and put simply was one of the most extraordinary series of decisions ever by Fenland District Council Planning Committee and flew in the face of the overwhelming support for Sainsbury’s and opposition to Tesco just three weeks ago.

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With councillors locked 6-6 on whether to continue to block Tesco’s application, Councillor Phil Hatton, planning committee chairman, used his casting vote to make it increasingly likely the matter will end up in the courts.

He said: “I have been dreading this situation,” he said. “I know I am going to get a lot of flack but I am of the same belief as Councillor Florrie Newell so I go against ratifying this decision.” Cllr Newell has always supported approval for both but last month gained no support for her recommendation.

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In affect today’s vote means the Tesco refusal was thrown out and when a debate followed to agree to “revisit” the application this was approved by seven votes to six.

Effectively the result of three weeks ago when approval was given only to Sainsbury’s is out the window and now both stores can, in reality, build next to each other in Eastrea Road.

Councillor Martin Curtis left the room before the debate saying he would have “trouble keeping my trap shut”. It was his campaign that helped win the day last month for Sainsbury’s.

Today’s extraordinary scenes and manoeuvres were seemingly led by Councillor Jan French who said the committee had been misled last time over the suitability of the Tesco site for housing.

“What would the difference be if Tesco was approved in Eastrea Road? “she said. “We will still have two out of town supermarkets”, a reference to the permission obtained by Tesco in Station Road.

But Bruce Smith, director of Whitacre Management and who had spearheaded the Sainsbury’s bid, said after the meeting: “To say I and Sainsbury’s officials are gobsmacked is an understatement. I am stunned and I am sure Whittlesey will be very disappointed, it is a recipe for nothing.”

A spokesman for Sainsbury’s said that “now the courts will have to get involved, I expect there will be a judicial review

“Sainsbury’s are committed to Whittlesey.”

Resident Peter Norton who watched the vote said: “It is like the last meeting never happened.”

Town councillor Roy Gerstner: “Today’s planning meeting has been a travesty in planning terms and a smack in the face for the people of Whittlesey.

“They have not listened to the views of the people.”

Graham Nourse, chief planning officer, said, prior to the voting, that two out of town supermarkets “are likely to have an adverse affect on the town centre.”

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