ALMOST 600 residents attended a meeting to discuss Tesco’s plans for a shop in Goring.
The village hall was packed and scores of people had to stand in the aisles or in the neighbouring Belleme Room.
Many more had to stand outside and listen to the debate over loudspeakers.
Tesco plans to open an Express convenience store at the former Queen’s Arms pub in Reading Road. It does not need planning permission for the change of use.
Action group Stop Tesco In Goring, which called the meeting on Wednesday last week, says the shop would lure shoppers out of the village centre and so threaten the viability of the village’s independent stores.
It also says the road by the pub site is a dangerous place for the elderly and parents with children to cross and that it would be better used for affordable housing.
Group founder Rob Jones, of Manor Road, told the audience: “We have an incredibly strong sense of community and part of that community are our village shops.
“I do not believe any of our shops and businesses have ever failed to support the great community ventures we have in Goring.
“The village has raised £100,000 in charitable contributions this year and yet Tesco does not allow charity collections in its Express stores. A store at the Queen’s Arms would suck trade from the heart of the village. As footfall in the centre of the village declines, even businesses not directly competing with Tesco will suffer.
“Tesco claims it ‘builds thriving local communities wherever we operate’ but we already have a working community, thank you very much.
“This is not about the protection of individual business interests. Some of our shops may be less than perfect but what high street is?
“Not even Tesco could put a price on our community but if they did, they would probably mislabel it.”
Mr Jones said six delivery lorries visit the Tesco Express in Cholsey every day and the drivers park on the main road, causing an obstruction.
He said there was not enough room on the pavement in front of the former pub in Goring for two prams or mobility scooters to pass each other.
The meeting was read statements by South Oxfordshire District Council leader Ann Ducker, who represents Goring, and Henley MP John Howell, who were both unable to attend. Councillor Ducker said: “Any such store on the pub site would have a detrimental effect on the High Street, being the heart of the village that we have fought hard over many years to retain.
“We know in other places similar to Goring that such stores mean empty, boarded-up shops, loss of jobs and loss of tourists.
“The site is at a dangerous junction for any large delivery vehicles but more so for pedestrians with prams or those using mobility buggies.
“I am against this store. Consideration should be given for a housing site.”
Mr Howell said he welcomed Tesco’s interest in Goring but said the village already had a healthy high street with more than 20 shops serving the needs of the residents and employing 90 local people.
He said the Tesco store was “likely” to take away from the existing businesses and the pub site was “simply the wrong location”. James Wiggam, a Tesco corporate affairs manager, assured the crowd there would be more consultation.
He said: “We do not see this as a one night only event but the start of a conversation. It is essential that, if we open a store, we get it right and we can only do that with your input.
“We know lots of people are currently doing their supermarket shopping in Didcot and Wallingford and we feel there is demand in Goring.”
He said Tesco was “pleased” with the number of people who had said they would use the store but would still listen to those opposed to it.
“The great thing about retail is that it’s down to the customer to choose where they want to shop,” said Mr Wiggam.
“We are looking at providing a choice. It is not somewhere people will be forced to go; you can make your own mind up as to whether or not you use it.
“If we go ahead, we do so at our own risk. It will only work if people choose to use it. If they do not, it will not fare well.”
Mr Wiggam said delivery lorries no more than 10m long would arrive via Wallingford Road and park in the car park, not the street, and would be limited to four visits a day. He said the store would create 20 part-time jobs and claimed that villages such as Cricklade and Fakenham had continued to thrive after Tesco had opened an Express store.
“It always comes down to the viability of the village centre,” said Mr Wiggam. “If the businesses are good and you continue to support them there is no reason why there should be any impact on trade.”
Asked whether Tesco would consider opening at a more central location, he said: “We are happy to listen if you have other sites in mind but we have to be realistic.
“We believe the Queen’s Arms is a good site for a store and it would be wrong for me to claim otherwise.”
Beth Greenhouse, another corporate affairs manager, was asked how many people were in favour of the store.
She replied that she had received about 10 letters of support and a number of emails and telephone calls.
After questions, a vote was taken and most of the 300 people inside the hall opposed Tesco’s plans. Five were in favour and 12 abstained.
Among those in favour was 18-year-old student Marcus Wormald, from Streatley, who has started a Facebook campaign in support of Tesco. After the meeting, Mr Wormald said: “It’s a shame the residents of Goring and Streatley can’t see the benefits of a Tesco — if not to them, then to the younger generation.
“There are some people in the village who don’t have the opportunity to shop elsewhere and it would create jobs locally as well.”
Fellow supporter Danny Maher, from Crays Pond, said: “The question that should have been asked is whether the shops in Goring should provide better products at better prices.
“The number of people here tonight was less than one-third of the local population and the MP couldn’t even be bothered to show up.
“I’ve spoken to single mothers and elderly people who can’t afford the prices in Goring and feel they have to shop elsewhere.
“However, they have to balance that with the cost of travelling. These are people who struggle to find £10 to put petrol in their cars.
“A lot of people haven’t been given a voice because they feel intimidated by the ‘no’ campaign.
“I don’t necessarily support Tesco but I want to see improved provision for our more vulnerable residents.” Mr Jones said about 580 people had attended the meeting.
“We managed to get about 15 per cent of the local population, which is quite an achievement,” he said.
“However, I’m disappointed that Tesco’s consultation appears to have been a fait accompli. It was not genuine considering they’ve already got the lease. They seem to have decided they’ll open without any meaningful consultation.”
Ms Greenhouse said: “The meeting generated lots of useful comments for us to take away and consider.
“It was very constructive and everyone was polite and respectful in expressing their views.
“We look forward to it being the start of an ongoing conversation.”
• The Stop Tesco In Goring action group is considering legal ways to stop Tesco opening the Express store and preparing to organise a boycott if it does open. It also plans launch a survey to find out how local shops could improve their offerings.