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Herne getting famous for beating Tesco

The sleepy village that  triumphed over Tesco as people power forces chain to abandon pub conversion

The charming village of Herne seems an unlikely spot for an awesome display of people power. But the extraordinary resolve of its residents has just seen off the might of Tesco. Villagers won a David and Goliath battle with the store chain over what they saw as a threat to their way of life.

Heart of the village: The pub, with church next door, that Tesco aimed to convert

Heart of the village: The pub, with church next door, that Tesco aimed to convert

At the centre of the struggle was the Upper Red Lion, a recently closed pub next door to the handsome 14th century church of St Martin. Tesco wanted to turn it into a store – and the villagers were appalled. For one thing, it would have ruined the view at weddings. For another, it would spell doom for their Village Stores, Herne’s only shop, which is on the other side of the pub and has been keeping the community on the Kent coast in bread, milk and newspapers for more than a century.

Soon after word of the proposal for the Tesco Express leaked out, an emergency meeting was called by the parish council at the community hall in January. More than 500 turned up – too many to fit in the hall so the meeting had to be moved to the church.

Fightback: The campaign leaders. Villagers vowed to fight the plans and formed a campaign group

Fightback: The campaign leaders. Villagers vowed to fight the plans and formed a campaign group

The parish council vowed to fight the plans and campaign group Herne Against Tesco – HAT – was created. When rumours spread that Tesco was thinking of extending the pub at the rear, residents put a spanner in the works by getting the pub listed. Then there was a protest when, despite a downpour, 700 men, women and children marched through the village on March 4.

Five days later, Tesco, which had not even got as far as putting in a planning application, abandoned the scheme. St Martin’s celebrated by ringing its bells. Vicar Elaine Richardson had feared the church would miss out on the 130 weddings, christenings and funerals it conducts a year if the store opened.

Tesco signs on the store would also ruin wedding pictures and the atmosphere. Reverend Richardson said:

‘There’s something about the big boys just thinking they can push their way into the High Street or a village like ours. It’s awful.’

Thiruvalluvar Kumanan, 45, who runs the Village Stores, which includes post office, said:

‘If it was something the village needed, then fine. But we felt they were just trying to bully their way in.’

Chairman of the HAT campaign Frank Holden, 55, said:

‘We were preparing for a long fight. It’s a victory for the small people.’

Tesco picked Herne – which is distinct from the nearby town of Herne Bay – as potential site after analysing data from its Clubcard scheme and consulting residents. Pubs are attractive because they are already licensed to sell food and alcohol so do not require an application for a change of use.

Tesco said it felt there was ‘a demand for a shopping choice in Herne’ but added that ‘highway constraints’ meant it would not pursue the pub conversion.

mailonline 24th Mar 2012

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