A petition against Scarborough’s new Tesco superstore is being investigated by the Government after it emerged that residents’ names were falsely added.
Follow-up letters, confirming all 6,283 signatures, were sent out by the supermarket giant this week in response to what it thought were genuine objections.
But many claimed they had not signed anything, sparking a barrage of complaints to the authorities involved in the Dean Road development.
It is believed signatures and addresses of dead people were among those put forward as part of the protests against the store.
The Scarborough News can exclusively reveal the petition objecting to a crucial road closure, which has stalled the construction of the superstore, is now under investigation by the Department for Transport.
A spokesman for the Government body said: “We can confirm that it is an issue we are aware of and the matter is being looked at fully. We will complete the investigation in due course.”
Following a public consultation, Tesco is hoping the Department for Transport will grant permission to partially close Trafalgar Street West so work can finally begin.
But Scarborough Town Against Tesco Store (STATS) has been encouraging people to oppose the scheme.
Last month the group delivered 6,283 individually signed letters of objection to the Department for Transport’s office in Newcastle following a number of public meetings and collecting sessions.
The letters were then passed on to Tesco in order for the company to decide on its next move.
A spokesman said: “We were very surprised when we were notified by Department for Transport that thousands of objections had been submitted on the proposed closure of a small part of Trafalgar Street West.
“This did not reflect the feedback we had from the community. We followed the correct procedure set out by the Department for Transport and wrote to the names and addresses on these objection letters. We have since received calls from some of the people we wrote to saying they did not sign any such objection letter. We are committed to building a new Tesco in Scarborough and are liaising with Department for Transport who are trying to understand what has happened.”
Scarborough Council has also received a number of complaints from angry residents and the authority is backing the Government probe.
Nicholas Edwards, the council’s director of business support, said: “It has been brought to our attention that discrepancies have come to light regarding the petition of objections sent to the Department for Transport regarding the road closure of Trafalgar Street West associated with the sale of land to Tesco. This clearly needs looking into and it is now a matter for the Department to determine the credibility of the petition.”
Outraged resident, Marie Stephenson,contacted The Scarborough News on Monday after her elderly parents received a confirmation letter from Tesco.
Mrs Stephenson, of Stepney Grove, said: “My parents, who are well into their 80s and are in ill health, live nowhere near this proposed thing so this has no bearing on them at all.
“Under no circumstances did they sign this petition. They are still in their right mind enough to say they are not interested and it wouldn’t affect them.
“I believe someone has got my parent’s details from the electoral register. That’s a serious breach of data protection and confidentiality. It’s basically fraud and I am quite willing to take it to the police and our MP.”
However, STATS’ Neil Price, who presented the petition with chairman Malcolm Short, maintained the group’s innocence and said they had been “shocked” by the turn of events.
He believes people may have not realised the road closure was linked to the Tesco development, or objectors may have filled in resident’s names without their knowledge and falsified signatures.
He said: “I do find it very hard to believe that people have received responses saying they have not signed a letter.
“The one thing I can honestly say is we made it very clear throughout that it was a campaign against the closure of Trafalgar Street West. We do not believe we have done anything illegal or wrong whatsoever.
“We can only apologise and residents can rest assured that neither myself or the group were aware of people signing letters on behalf of someone else or giving a false name or address.
“We are not the type of people going around trying to falsify numbers.
“All we have done as a group is make sure people are being helped into doing a letter of objection. As far as we are concerned these were legitimate objections.”
Mr Price said the group had been in touch with two residents who claimed they had not signed the petition after their names were passed on by the Department of Transport.
“We have got nothing to hide,” he said.