Aldi has been given the go-ahead to build a new store in Leyland – at the second time of asking.
The discount retailer wants to relocate from its existing site on Westgate in the town centre to a new plot at the junction of Golden Hill Lane and School Lane.
READ MORE >>> Why Aldi was asked to rethink its new Leyland store
Members of South Ribble Borough Council’s planning committee deferred a decision on the application back in March amidst concerns over the appearance of the proposed store and its potential impact on traffic in the area.
A revised application presented to councillors revealed a redesigned building, constructed from red brick and featuring areas of rendering – as opposed to the grey panels previously proposed.
Meanwhile, highways officers from Lancashire County Council once again confirmed their earlier assessment that the development “would not have a significant impact on the operational performance of the local road network”.
But it remained a sticking point amongst members of the public – and several committee members.
Stuart Parks, property director for Aldi, said traffic emerging from the store’s car park – to be accessed from School Lane – would not interfere with the operation of the nearby traffic light-controlled junction with Golden Hill Lane.
A meeting to discuss the previous application heard concerns that queueing traffic would back up to the car park park entrance.
“It would not be in Aldi’s interests to have a [car park] which doesn’t work and doesn’t allow people to come to our store,” Mr Parks said.
He added that monitoring of traffic flow had revealed only one occasion in any 15-minute period when a queue of more than 10 vehicles – the distance between the junction and the proposed car park entrance – had formed at the lights on the School Lane approach to the junction.
But the claim was met with derision amongst members of the public, one of whom audibly gasped: “You’re joking!”
Ward councillor Mick Titherington said he was not “anti Aldi”, but added that “the quality of life of those affected by the application should be a significant, if not overriding, factor”.
Golden Hill Terrace resident Ruth Sinclair challenged both Conservative and Labour members of the committee to “abide by and act upon” promises made at local elections earlier this month regarding traffic congestion and air quality.
Meanwhile, a resident of School Lane revealed that the council had recently sent out letters to local businesses asking them and their suppliers to use junction 29 of the M6 when arriving in and leaving Leyland, rather than junction 28 – in an attempt to reduce air pollution levels on the roads close to the proposed new store.
“Why does the council think it’s appropriate to introduce thousands of new cars to an area which they are asking businesses to avoid?” the resident asked.
The meeting heard that an air quality assessment – commissioned by Aldi and considered by the council’s environmental health officers – concluded that the new store would not cause any “new exceedances” of maximum permitted levels of air pollution.
The site sits within a so-called ‘air quality management area’ which has previously breached nitrogen dioxide levels, but which currently lies within them according to the latest available data.
Vice-chairman of the committee, Malcolm Donoghue, proposed the application be rejected on air quality and traffic grounds – and was supported by fellow committee member, Keith Martin.
But the council’s senior legal officer, Dave Whelan, warned that their reason for refusal would be “difficult to substantiate” if Aldi appealed to the planning inspectorate.
“We would have to produce evidence to support [the stance taken over air quality], because you can take it as read that Aldi will produce evidence to show their store won’t have a detrimental impact,” he said.
Committee member Barrie Yates – who pushed for refusal of the application back in March on the grounds of the building being out of character with the area – said the authority would not stand “a cat in hell’s chance” of defending an appeal on air quality grounds.
Coun Caroline Moon said she was going to make herself “very unpopular” by proposing the application be approved.
“I might not like it, but I’m trying to balance this with planning law,” she said.
The application was approved by eight votes to four, with one abstention.
Committee chair Caleb Tomlinson told members of the public that he “apologised and sympathised” over the decision which had been taken.
“You should be ashamed,” one of their number said, as they filed out.
A petition was signed by 390 people objecting to the proposed store, with 28 formal objections lodged with the council. Forty letters of support were presented to planning officers.
The new store will see the demolition of two existing buildings and a former school. A nursery close to the entrance of the site will remain open.
Aldi says 40 people will be employed at the new store.