DISCOUNT retail giant Aldi has said it will not walk away from developing a store in New Milton after its bid to develop an out-of-town site was refused.
Members of New Forest District Council’s planning committee voted 9-8 – on the casting vote of chair Cllr Christine Ward – to turn down the German grocery chain’s proposal for land in Caird Avenue, near the existing Tesco supermarket.
An Aldi spokesperson said the firm was “very disappointed” but added: “We certainly haven’t given up on a site in New Milton.
“We will look at what our options are with regard to bringing an alternative application forward.”
The main reason for refusal was the argument there is a preferable site in the centre of New Milton – the former Co-op outlet now owned by department store Bradbeers. But Aldi said it was not interested in that site.
The scheme to build on land owned by New Milton Sand & Ballast in Caird Avenue included 127 parking spaces.
By voting against it, NFDC members backed a planning officer’s recommendation that despite not “significantly” affecting other, more central centre shops, Aldi’s scheme did not satisfy the needs of the town.
Arguing for Aldi, planning agent Dan Templeton warned the committee that it had “extensively tested” options relating to the Bradbeers plot in Station Road before deciding it was not commercially viable because it had only 68 parking spaces.
Even if it also secured the HSBC Bank outlet next door – which Bradbeers argued was a possibility – and combined it with the former Co-op store, it was still not of sufficient size, Mr Templeton said, adding large delivery lorries could also not safely service it.
Bradbeers director Gregory Davies criticised Aldi, saying it was “too rigidly” sticking to its business model and had failed to “engage”.
He argued the Station Road alternative was “perfectly suitable”, had 109 car parking spaces and, combined with the HSBC outlet, was more than 20,000sqft – bigger than the footprint of the proposed store at Caird Avenue.
Mr Davies claimed planning policy encouraged the development of town centre sites and revealed Bradbeers had received legal advice that would encourage it to challenge any approval.
He was challenged by Cllr Arthur Davies who said Bradbeers had a “financial interest” in a budget food store on its site – which has lain empty since Bradbeers bought it in 2017 with a promise to develop it with shops.
Cllrs Anne Corbridge and Barry Dunning threw their support behind Aldi, noting parking in New Milton was lacking and Aldi might walk away completely if its bid was refused.
Cllr David Hawkins, who is also a New Milton town councillor, backed the scheme, pointing out a slim majority of locals expressed support in a poll conducted by New Milton Residents Association.
The committee report also said Aldi had not agreed financial contributions towards new cycle paths and walkways or proposed boundary planting.
Mr Templeton said both could be overcome and that Aldi had already agreed a financial package with Hampshire County Council. He also said it was prepared to reposition the store slightly because land to the east has been earmarked for housing.
That worried Cllr Sue Bennison who successfully proposed refusal, saying it showed the application was not “finalised” and could affect future housing on the adjacent land.
However, the decision was only agreed after Cllr Joe Riley changed his vote, having first seconded Cllr Bennison’s motion to refuse permission before then voting against the refusal. He switched his vote after being pressed by committee chair Cllr Ward.