A NEW Tesco superstore could force small shops to close and turn Brighton Hill into a ‘ghost town’.

Those were some of the arguments levelled at the retail giant by opponents of a proposed Tesco Extra, on The Harrow Way in Brighton Hill.

Members of the Tesco Action Group have this week outlined why Government planning inspector Ken Barton should uphold Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council’s decision to block the planned 63,000 sq ft store on the former Smiths Industries site.

As previously reported, a public inquiry started on February 19 after Tesco appealed against the decision by the borough council’s development control committee to refuse planning permission for the new store last July.

Speaking at the inquiry on Tuesday, Aldworth Science College headteacher Denis McCabe criticised Tesco’s proposed package of road improvements for the Brighton Hill Roundabout.

The company wants to revamp the roundabout as part of its building plans by filling in underpasses and installing a series of light-controlled crossings. Mr McCabe said this would increase the likelihood of road accidents when students travel to schools, including Aldworth in nearby Western Way.

“Young people and roads do not mix,” he said. “The risk increases if there are multiple crossings. They (children) are impatient, think they are invincible and get distracted easily. I think underpasses are safer for young people.”

Tesco barrister Christopher Katkowski QC asked Mr McCabe if the 200 new jobs planned for the store would outweigh the risk to students.

“I am more concerned about a student being injured, or worse killed, than the chance of them getting employment at the new site,” Mr McCabe said.

Tesco also came under fire from Jaybee’s convenience store owner Mark Buttress. He said his family-run shop, in Kings Furlong, would lose customers and struggle to stay in business and approval for the Tesco store would “without a doubt” force him to lay-off some of his 14 staff.

“If this Tesco was to go ahead, in the short-term we would have to make redundancies,” he said.

Giving evidence, he said shops at Kingsmill Road, Kings Road, Buckland Avenue, and Pack Lane would also struggle. He added that any adverse impact could mean the loss of services not available in supermarkets, such as Pay Point, parcel collection, and council tax payment services.

The inquiry also heard from Brighton Hill North borough councillor Carolyn Wooldridge. She said that a new Tesco would affect the “vitality and viability” of shops at the Brighton Hill centre, which are less than 700m from the proposed new Tesco.

Cllr Wooldridge said residents feared that Asda would be forced to leave, which would harm neighbouring shops.

“There are a number of other smaller shops and businesses in the Brighton Hill Centre operating at tight margins and relying on the presence of an anchor store such as Asda and the footfall it brings.” She added that before Asda, the centre was like a “ghost town”.

Bliss Close resident Tina Jordan echoed Cllr Wooldridge’s argument. “I moved to Brighton Hill in 1995. It was a very unpleasant place and quite violent.

“Now I feel quite proud to live there. People I have spoken to say they value the investment to the area Asda have put in.”

Earlier, the inquiry had heard from Asda representative Mark Underwood, who said a Tesco “could well push the centre over the edge”.

However Tesco’s Mr Katkowski said: “What Asda have made quite clear is that Tesco will not make them close.” He said that residents’ fears that Asda would leave Brighton Hill are “misplaced”.