PEOPLE POWER has dealt a blow to a supermarket that wanted to transform a North-East town centre.

The Northern Echo can reveal that plans for a Tesco in Darlington are to be booted out by councillors.

Britain's biggest retailer wanted to build a Tesco Extra close to the 140-year-old town-centre market.

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It came up with a tempting package - including the offer of a new town hall - but the scheme faced unprecedented opposition.

Attracted by the prospect of a new headquarters, but not wishing to go against local opinion, the local authority launched a lengthy period of public consultation.

Officials were shocked by the strength of opposition:

* The authority made contact with more than 10,000 people;

* Of the 2,500 who expressed a view, 77 per cent were against the plan;

* The council commissioned an Ipsos Mori poll that quizzed 1,000 people in the town - revealing 76 per cent were against the plan;

* Almost 11,000 people signed a Say No Tesco in Darlington petition.

In the face of such an overwhelming rejection, council leader John Williams said he would now recommend councillors reject the plan.

Coun Williams said that the response to the consultation had been "phenomenal" but claimed he was not surprised by the result.

He said: "This is one of the biggest schemes put forward in Darlington by a private developer so it was bound to generate huge public interest.

"Of course, just the name of Tesco always creates strong feelings.

"It is clear from replies to the consultation that although people want to see the site developed, they do not want a large supermarket or superstore-led development."

Coun Williams will urge councillors to reject the plans when they vote on November 23. It is now almost certain that the ruling Labour group will vote in favour of turning Tesco down.

The result will be a major blow to Britain's most successful retailer, which already controls 30 per cent of the grocery market in the UK. This year, the chain announced more than £2.2bn in profits.

Meanwhile, market traders and small business owners rejoiced. Stall holder Robin Blair said: "This is excellent for the whole town. We are overjoyed. The people have shown what they really want in Darlington. The response has been phenomenal, and I want to thank them for taking the time and effort to put their views forward.

"The whole thing hasn't done the market any harm. People have made a big effort to come down to the market and sign the petition."

Mike Barker, who owns a health store in Darlington, said: "This is a great victory for the people who showed overwhelmingly that they supported our campaign to protect everything we treasure about our market town.

"The threat of domination by Tesco has been lifted."

Alan Coultas, part of the Say No to Tesco campaign, said: "During the campaign, people showed a great passion for their town and that they care about it. They want to be consulted properly, listened to, and have a voice in decision making. Local democracy is the winner."

Since The Northern Echo revealed the Tesco plans, the newspaper has investigated the effect the supermarket has had in Newton Aycliffe, in County Durham, and Hexham, in Northumberland.

Hundreds of people have shared their views with the newspaper - the majority against the plans.

Darlington Borough Council and community representatives will now investigate other options for the site.

However, plans put forward by Asda and revealed by The Northern Echo are likely to be disregarded by the council.

Tesco declined to comment last night.