Local retailers in Sherborne, Dorset, staged a dramatic shutdown yesterday in protest at Tesco’s plans for a 28,000sq ft out-of-town supermarket.

The majority of the town’s independent shops closed in protest for one hour on Tuesday afternoon, with dozens of retailers demonstrating by covering their windows or boarding up their shops. Signs were displayed saying: “Closed down for one hour, but it could be longer (or permanent) if Tesco comes to town.”

Hundreds of local shops, businesses and locals then participated in a march to the site of Tesco’s public consultation, where 709 people turned up to hear its plans in the first hour alone.

An independent exit poll showed 663 were against and just 43 were for the proposal, according to campaigner Liz Burt. “Sherborne has never seen anything like it. There was a fabulous sense of community spirit between the town’s businesses and local shoppers,” she said.

“The icing on the cake was when one eagle-eyed campaigner noticed that Melanie Chiswell, Tesco’s corporate affairs manager in charge of the consultation, had a Waitrose carrier bag on the back seat of her car - interesting during a week when Tesco came bottom and Waitrose came top of the Which? Poll on the UK’s best supermarkets, so who can blame her!”

Nearly 9,000 people have signed petitions against Tesco’s plans, which campaigners argue would impact on town centre footfall and threaten high street shops and businesses.

Campaigners also fear the impact on tourism, given Tesco would demolish one of only two hotels in Sherborne, which is a heritage town. They argue that the plans are at odds with the local development plan and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Local MP and Conservative minister Oliver Letwin has also questioned its merits. “The NPPF specifically requires planning authorities to take into account the long term impact of out-of-town developments on town centres,” he told C-Store. “And I do indeed take the view that this is a highly relevant consideration in the case of Sherborne.”

The local development plan identifies the need to continue the proposed site for hotel use, and states that any development should be well-integrated with the town centre.

“In no part does it mention a need for out-of-town shopping,” said Nick Lloyd, managing director of Symonds Budgens, which operates a forecourt store near the site of the proposed supermarket.