The age of Tesco edges closer

Hailsham is beginning to feel the impact of the controversial new Tesco development - which continues to divide opinion in the town.

Demolition work on the North Street site has finally got underway, 14 years after it was first earmarked for retail use and more than six months after Tesco won its long-running battle for planning permission.

Two derelict buildings next to the Grenadier pub, on the corner of North Street and the High Street, are being pulled down and the cleared land will eventually form part of the new superstore.

Across town in Marshfoot Lane, the new White House primary school is starting to take shape.

Tesco has paid for the school to relocate from North Street so it can bulldoze the school's current buildings and incorporate that into the development.

But while youngsters will eventually get shiny new classrooms and shoppers a consumer heaven that will take the number of Tesco-brand stores nationwide to nearly 2,000, not everyone is happy.

Last Wednesday vandals targeted the fence near the current White House school and painted the slogan 'affordable housing would be better than Tesco'.

Just 48 hours after it was cleaned up, more anti-Tesco graffiti sprang up on the same fence.

White House School headteacher Heather Baldwin said, "I think it's sad that people have to resort to that.

"The work has started. The only people it's affecting now are the children and the staff at the school, not the big boys."

As futile as graffiti may be, it is a sign of the strength of feeling among those in Hailsham who are worried at the effect the retail giant - the fourth largest on the planet - will have on the town centre.

Mayor Nick Ellwood said he was particularly concerned about the plan to convert North Street into a two-way road.

He said, "We have been opposed to it because we feel the whole gyratory should be reversed.

"The way they've designed it is so that all the traffic feeds into Tesco, doubtless its intention.

"I believe 'Planet Tesco', as I call it, wants to take over the world.

"We have restricted them in what they can sell but studies show that when Tesco comes into towns the size of Hailsham there is a 26 per cent closure of high street shops as a result."

Robin Sadler, one of the landlords at the Grenadier, said it was 'about time' the derelict buildings adjacent to his pub were knocked down.

He said, "I just hope that Tesco can be sympathetic to all the other shops in the town."

But the owner of one such town centre shop said changes to the flow of traffic through the town could hit some local businesses hard.

She said, "There is a lot of negativity around about it.

"Making North Street two-way is going to cause havoc with town centre traffic and that will affect the High Street."

But all the time the debate rumbles on, so construction work gathers pace.

Constructor Kier expects the new White House school to be completed by Easter 2008 - paving the way for the old site to be swallowed up and become Tesco superstore number 434.