Plans for a new Aldi supermarket in Highbridge have this week been given the go-ahead despite objections from the Town Council and Burnham Chamber of Trade amid concern that it will damage the town centre’s economy.
The proposals for a new 1,804 square metre store in Bennett Road, at the northern end of the Isleport Industrial Park, were given a ‘green light’ by Sedgemoor District Council’s Development Control Committee on Tuesday May 9th.
Aldi told the meeting that the proposed store will create 14 full-time jobs and 26 part-time jobs, has the backing of the majority of the general public and could generate future commercial development in the town.
But, as first reported here, town councillors and businesses are concerned that the proposed store will severely hit trade in Burnham and Highbridge.
Alex Turco from Burnham-On-Sea Chamber of Commerce told the meeting: “A year ago if Aldi had wanted to open on the old Morrisons site in Burnham town centre we would have been doing cartwheels down the High Street.”
“This objection is not about Aldi, it is about the location. We are concerned for the future of our town centre. In an age where it’s easy for people to buy what they want, when they want, we need to be actively supporting town centres.”
“Encouraging local people into our town centre should be a key goal for local authorities. Burnham town centre is one which you describe in your own local plan as being ‘vulnerable’ yet if Aldi takes 20 per cent of Lidl’s customers, that is thousands of people who will not be coming into the town centre.”
Speaking for Burnham and Highbridge Town Council, Cllr Peter Burridge-Clayton added that he supported the Chamber of Trade’s comments.
“We appreciate that many members of the public do want Aldi, but the location is the issue,” he told the meeting. “We’re a tourist town, and if we lose shops we lose visitors, if we lose visitors we lose more shops, and pretty soon the whole town centre will die.”
But Sedgemoor District Council’s key planning officer recommended that the committee approve the application, as we reported here last week, explaining that it complied with national, regional and local planning policies and that Highways England had not objected.
It was pointed out by Aldi that its survey of the public earlier this year had revealed 95 per cent backing for the store, while more than 40 letters of support had also been sent to the district council by the public.
Cllr Andrew Gilling told the meeting he found it quite “startling” that those who are supposed to be representing the residents “seem to be at odds with them.” He added that he would be supporting the application.
Cllr Janet Keen raised concerns about heavy goods vehicles delivering and access being tight, but Cllr Gilling responded that modern reversing cameras and a lack of Highways concerns mean this should not hold up the application.
The application was approved by eight votes to one. Cllr Mike Facey was the only councillor who voted against the plans. Cllr Janet Keen was unable to vote as she had pre-determined the application.
Following the meeting, Burnham resident Gaynor Brown told Burnham-On-Sea.com: “Sedgemoor’s Revised Local Plan recognises that the economy of Burnham and Highbridge is extremely fragile and yet passes yet another out of town superstore. The attitude seems to be that despite the fact that the application breaks planning rules on at least eight counts, it doesn’t matter because everyone can shop by car.”
“The suggestion is that because they claim there are no more central sites available a totally unsuitable site becomes acceptable, of course it doesn’t the site still has to meet planning requirements for A1 usage which this does not and no ‘no parking’ traffic order can make it meet the regulations. There are suitable sites available and they turned down the Morrison’s site when asked to take it over.”
“The reality is that we will lose Lidl and Highbridge will lose the Co-op so unless you can afford to run a car you will have real difficulty in doing your weekly shopping. We don’t have to take this – we could ask for a call-in to the Planning Inspectorate and maybe if this is how much our District Council care about our town that’s exactly what we should do.”
Claire Faun, Sedgemoor District Council spokeswoman, told Burnham-On-Sea.com: “Sedgemoor District Council is working with Burnham Chamber of Trade and Commerce and others to support businesses in the centre of Burnham-On-Sea. There are many ways to take advantage of new opportunities in the area, especially given the increase in visitors we are expecting because of the Hinkley Point C development, the opening of the England Coast Path and Brean Down Way and the current advertising campaign promoting the wider county and its coastal attractions.”