Tesco eyes 16th Norwich store - in city pub
Months of speculation over the future of a closed city pub have come to an end after it emerged that Tesco is keen to open a new store in the building – which would become the 16th the supermarket giant runs in and around Norwich.
The Firs pub, in Hellesdon, closed in September after more than 70 years of serving the community, with its owners, Enterprise Inns, tight-lipped over who might take it over.
They said only that 'an agreement had been reached with a third party for alternative use', sparking rumours that the pub was going to be turned into a Tesco store.
But a string of applications by the store to Broadland District Council have confirmed that Tesco is indeed keen to add the building to its ever-lengthening list of Tesco Express shops around Norwich.
Tesco has lodged five applications for the former pub, in Cromer Road, including for a new shop front, illuminated signs and a cash machine.
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Because the Firs building is already covered by a condition which means it can be used for retail use, the company does not have to submit a planning application for the store itself.
Peter Balcombe, who represents Hellesdon South East on Broadland District Council, said that, as a substitute member on the planning committee, he had to be careful over commenting on the applications or he could lose his right to vote if called upon.
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But he has sent a letter to Tesco to see if the company would be prepared to provide a crossing over the busy A140 road.
He said: 'I have written to Tesco saying I am very concerned about the danger to local people crossing the A140 at that point.
'As a public house, very few people were crossing the busy road there, but a successful store would increase pedestrian traffic flow and it would only be a matter of time before a child or one of Hellesdon's many elderly people came to grief there.'
There are currently 15 Tescos, either main superstores, Metro or Express outlets, in and around Norwich, and some have proved controversial.
The Unthank Road application, which was granted permission in early 2009, and opened in July 2010, was the subject of a five-year battle, with campaigners saying it would kill off the independent shops along the other side of the street.
Earlier this year, Tesco confirmed it was interested in opening a store at the site of another former city pub - the Dial - on the corner of Dereham Road and Old Palace Road.
That would become the 17th store if it and the Firs are both developed and earlier this year the city council said Tesco would not need planning permission to operate from that site, as it was already deemed suitable as a Class A1 retail outlet.
That means Tesco or any other supermarket could open a store without the need for planning permission, although permission would be needed for new signs, a new shop front or to demolish the existing building.
Chris Hull, a former Green county councillor who battled to stop the Tesco being built in Unthank Road, said: 'These would become the 16th and 17th Tesco stores and that's concerning as that's far and away beyond how many their competitors have.
'They do have an impact on local shops and they are increasingly finding places where they don't need planning permission, so we need another route other than planning to protect communities from them monopolising them.'
Paul Carpenter, 35, a computer programmer who lives opposite the proposed Tesco site in Hellesdon, said he was opposed to the plans because of the affect it would have on the neighbouring Premier Convenience store.
He said: 'It's gone through several hands - it was a Budgens, a Londis - and these guys took over about six months ago and have done a really good job but its probably all going to be for nothing. I don't think the traffic would affect us that much; my main concern is for the shop next door.'
But James Oliver, 27, who has lived on Cromer Road for the past seven years, said: 'It will be brilliant. I'm chuffed. There will be cheaper stuff and a more variety so it will be much better. It's great news, I'm really chuffed.'
Nobody from Tesco was available for comment.
Built in 1933, the Firs pub was closely linked with the Firs Stadium that played host to the Norwich Stars speedway team and attracted tens of thousands of visitors every week.
But in recent times, The Firs pub had a troubled time, with two people arrested in relation to alleged drugs offences in March.
Staff said they had tried to clean up its image and had worked with police to tackle the problems, but in August it closed again.
The pub briefly re-opened, but shut again in September when it closed its doors for good.
The Evening News has urged people to support their local pubs through its Love Your Local campaign - which has tried to raise awareness about the issues currently facing pubs.
• What do you think of the growth in Tesco stores around Norwich? Is it a good or a bad thing? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email email@example.com