MORE than 200 shopkeepers have signed a petition pleading with councillors to reject plans for a town centre Tesco.

Stores in Southend High Street, Southchurch Road, Chichester Road, Queens Road and London Road want Southend Council to torpedo the proposals for the former B&Q site in Short Street.

Councillors will meet tomorrow to decide whether to give the green light for a three-storey complex, and small businesses say approval could kill off the struggling town centre economy.

Even chain stores such as Topshop and Primark have signed the petition alongside independent traders.

Paul Slennett, who runs the Southend Christian Bookshop, in London Road, and organised the petition, said: “The strength of feeling against this new Tesco is really strong. Even I was surprised by just how many people wanted to sign the petition.

“The council has got to understand it cannot allow this supermarket to be built and expect the High Street to survive.

“We need a wide range of shops, not one selling everything under one roof.”

Tesco has been drawing up plans for a development at the site for the past four years, but its final proposals only emerged in March this year.

The supermarket giant wants to build a 7,771sqm store, with a raised walkway to the Victoria shopping centre.

However, fears over the amount of traffic it will generate have led Tesco bosses to propose leaving a third of the building unused until road improvements can be made.

Even in its scaled-down form, council officers predict it will swallow up all the traffic gains generated by the £7million revamp of Victoria Gateway.

With the High Street already reeling from last week’s loss of TJ Hughes, barely a year after it took over from defunct Woolworths, opponents claim a new Tesco would effectively kill off smaller stores.

Shops signing the petition include Southend Food and Wine in London Road as well as chain brands like Monsoon, Topshop, Superdrug and Primark. The plans have split stores in the Victoria centre, with owner Bill Harkness backing the plans, but some shops, such as Fiori florists, believing it could cause unwanted competition.

Patsy Link, spokeswoman for campaign group Saxon King in Priory Park, erected a banner on the B&Q site over the weekend which read Tesco kills shops. She added: “We have to act now. This could destroy our High Street.”