Tesco was forced to scrap plans for an out-of-town supermarket in Sherborne by the town’s “formidable” campaigners, retailers believe.

The multiple said planning issues drove its decision to withdraw plans for a 28,000sq ft supermarket in the Dorset market town, although it emphasised that it had “listened” to the protestors.

“While the Sherborne protest was not the deciding factor, we did listen to it. When we say we consult communities, we mean it,” said Tesco managing director Chris Bush.

But some retailers argued that Tesco’s retreat was an exercise in damage limitation. Mike Skerrett, of Spar Dolwyddelan, North Wales, said: “I don’t think Tesco’s changing. The campaigners made life difficult for them so they pulled out. They didn’t want the bad press - they’ve had so much of it. But if they want to build, they’ll build.”

Jonathan James, who owns two Budgens stores in East Anglia, praised the “fantastically well-orchestrated campaign that tugged on the heart-strings of communities around the UK”.

He added: “It was an extremely formidable campaign, and the sheer passion of it was a one-off. As a result, the adverse PR would have outweighed the potential benefits,” he said.

He also dismissed the importance of planning issues in Tesco’s decision. “Given time and with their financial resources I’m sure they could have got round these issues,” Jonathan added.

But Nick Lloyd, managing director of Budgens Symonds, which has a forecourt in Sherborne, said Tesco had “won some new supporters” from the decision. “They have taken a lot of flak recently, but maybe this is the start of a sea change. It has made poor decisions in the past that have alienated it, but this decision shows a new maturity,” he said.

Nick, who played a part in the No Thanks Tesco campaign, added: “There has been a formidable campaign, and clearly the board have considered the feedback.”

Campaign tools

Vital facts

● No Thanks Tesco group launched in December 2012, 48 hours after Tesco announced the plans

● On February 26 most high street shops closed, displaying signs saying: “Closed down for one hour, but it could be longer (or permanent) if Tesco comes.” Hundreds of people then joined a protest march, attracting national media interest

● In April it delivered a petition signed by 11,324 people to West Dorset District Council, alongside local MP Oliver Letwin. Sherborne’s population is less than 10,000

● The group attracted the support of local celebrities and high street guru Mary Portas

● Local businesses and experts formed a defensive planning group to strengthen their case.