A BID by discount retail giant Aldi to build a supermarket on the edge of New Milton is slated to be thrown out at a crunch meeting next week.
The German grocery chain wants to launch a store on land currently owned by New Milton Sand and Ballast in Caird Avenue – which would put it in direct competition with the town’s large Tesco store opposite.
But New Forest District Council planning officers are resisting the idea and have suggested a vacant town centre unit is a better option for the community.
Documents set to go before councillors on NFDC’s planning committee reveal officers have highlighted the empty former Co-op store in Station Road, which is owned by department store Bradbeers.
But Aldi said it considered the site – which Bradbeers intends to develop with a retail unit on the ground floor and flats above – among six alternatives and deemed it unsuitable.
That was because 68 parking spaces to the rear was insufficient, nearby units were not available to buy to enable expansion, and servicing arrangements for 16.5-metre HGVs were “unsuitable and unsafe”.
It also wanted two entrances to provide easy customer access, which was not thought possible at the site.
Aldi estimated in its submission that its presence would divert around £12m of trade from other stores, including approximately £3.6m from the nearby Tesco store. It also claimed it would affect New Milton town centre stores to the tune of only £0.9m in total.
The latter claim was challenged by Bradbeers and town centre supermarket Morrisons – which said the effect was more likely to be in the region of £2.6m.
The NFDC committee report agreed Aldi had underestimated the impact, suspecting a higher figure of £1.7m more likely.
But it assessed that Morrisons should “continue to trade viably” were an Aldi to be allowed in the town. While other smaller stores will see a reduction in trade, it was “unlikely” they would close or experience “significant adverse impact”.
New Milton Town Council initially indicated the out-of-town Aldi was acceptable but subsequently said it had “no comment”.
There have been 20 responses to the proposal: 14 against and four in favour, with the other two neutral.
Concerns include traffic problems in Caird Avenue, another supermarket not being necessary or sustainable, drops in footfall, the impact on bats and owls on the site, and dust and noise issues.
Those in favour said the proposal would benefit the elderly and single-parent families who live close to the site, reduce travel to alternative Aldi stores, and promoted competition.
Complicating Aldi’s stance is the fact its preferred site was allocated for employment use – not retail – as part of NFDC’s Local Plan, the keystone document for development in the district up to 2036.
It has to satisfy a “sequential test” and demonstrate Caird Avenue is the most suitable spot for the area’s needs. NFDC officers said Aldi had failed to demonstrate the alternative Station Road site to be “unsuitable or unavailable”.
Bradbeers stressed how the sequential test had “not been satisfactorily met”, claiming its Co-op store was the “preferable site”. It also pointed out the town’s Neighbourhood Plan of hyperlocal policies, which require retail, is currently only a draft.
In the NFDC committee report, further grounds for refusal included the proposal being a “poor quality development” due to lack of screening plants to the southern or eastern boundaries. That would cause an “unacceptable visual impact”, it added.
There was also no contribution towards the provision of a cycling and walking link to reduce the impact of traffic and promote sustainable travel.
The proposal will be debated on Wednesday morning by planning committee members at a meeting which will be livestreamed on NFDC’s YouTube channel.