The supermarket chain ALDI has accused planners of holding up their plans for a new store on the outskirts of Gillingham. The company wants to build what it calls a ‘modest neighbourhood store’ on the Kingsmead Business Park to the south-east of the town, just off the roundabout on the road to Shaftesbury.
But its recent planning application for a 1,254 sq. m store at that site was not registered by planning authority North Dorset District Council because of a technical issue. As a result the retailer has appealed to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in a bid to force the council to accept the application for a store which it claims is backed by 82% of local residents whom it surveyed late last year.
In a statement it told Gillingham News: ‘ALDI has submitted a planning application following residents’ show of support for our plans. The ALDI application could be registered now and determined in the coming months, but the council is delaying the process. We have therefore had to seek a decision from the Secretary of State before our plans can go forward.’
At a recent planning committee meeting at Gillingham Town Council planning official Robert Lennis told councillors that ALDI had put forward an application but that it had not been, in his words, ‘validated’, because officials feel the store effectively forms part of the much bigger Southern Extension development to build 1,800 new homes. That development will require a formal statement as to how it will impact the local environment and thus the ALDI plans will as well, he said. ‘We have written back saying that we think they need an environmental statement there,’ said Robert Lennis, who suggested that ALDI had in effect been ‘jumping the gun’ in making their application so soon. ‘They see themselves as being separate from the Southern Extension. They have made a submission, it has not been validated and they have appealed over the letter we sent to them to the Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State will be the final arbiter of the matter as to whether an environmental statement is required.’
ALDI, however, say they do not want to be restricted by the timetable of the major development. ‘Information before us suggests that Gillingham’s Southern Expansion Area is not due to progress for at least 18 months, but we see no reason why our proposal should be held up,’ it said. ‘The local community told us, they often have to travel out of Gillingham to buy food, as there is no food store close to their homes to the south of Gillingham. The proposed site is available for development straight away and we would like to progress the store plans as soon as possible, to give local people the shopping choice they wish to see.’
The company also points out that their plans involve bringing economic benefit from an undeveloped site and that the proposed store will create up to 40 new jobs.
David Walsh, North Dorset District Council’s Portfolio Holder for Planning, said:
‘As Local Planning Authority, the council are obliged to adopt a screening opinion for every planning application in accordance with The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011.
‘If, in the opinion of the council, a proposed development is likely to have significant effects on the environment by virtue of factors such as its nature, size or location then the application needs to be accompanied by an Environmental Statement. This will assess the environmental effects of the development, giving regard to things such as noise, traffic, air quality etc. This should also consider cumulative impacts where relevant.
‘The district council adopted a screening opinion that the cumulative impact of the proposed Aldi store, in addition to the planned southern extension to Gillingham, would require the support of an environmental statement.
‘Aldi did not agree with the council’s screening opinion and have exercised their right for a second opinion from the Secretary of State.’