A POLARISING debate about development in Stroud has been reignited after budget supermarket ALDI submitted fresh plans to build it first store in the district.
The German giant has now teamed up with the landowner of the Bath Road Trading Estate, Wagner Developments, to submit a revised planning application to regenerate the historic site in Dudbridge.
This massive proposal would see the creation of the discount food supermarket alongside wider redevelopment of vacant and unviable industrial buildings to create more employment space and bring much of the estate “back to life”.
However, the issue has already divided many in the community who disagree on whether Stroud town needs another large supermarket, and whether the Bath Road site is the best place for it.
While the majority of the public support lies behind ALDI coming to the area, councilors on Stroud District Council (SDC) voted against their own officer’s advice last November to throw out the original blueprint.
They argued the supermarket would damage the vitality and viability of town centres, displace businesses on site and cause traffic problems along the A46 through Dudbridge.
After the SNJ broke the news, many relieved residents called on the council to represent the views of the community and pass the application this time around.
Lee Pitts said: “Let’s hope the council give the people what they want this time” and Stroud shopper Denise Nolson added: “Definitely behind this. SDC need to represent the peoples view, not the narrow minded few.”
Resident Rick Cannam said: “We want an ALDI in Stroud, come on planners pass it,” while Christine Young commented: “Let's hope this time it happens. Stroud could certainly do with an ALDI.”
Pamela Miri added: “Can this just get sorted ASAP? It's dragged on for so long. It’s a shop, not a flipping Stroud to Calais Tunnel.”
However, others defended the council’s decision to protect small local businesses and called on SDC to block the rejigged plans again.
Resident Cami Anne said: “They've already closed one business with a loss of skilled jobs, with some very underhand tactics from Wagner. This needs blocking, and a better site that does not already have businesses on.
“Stroud is supposed to stand up for the small businesses, but the community doesn't seem to care when it comes to the crunch.”
Karen McKeown, district councillor for Rodborough, which covers the Dudbridge area, said: “I have always been quite supportive of this idea. The people of Dudbridge need a shop like this in the community.
“Providing some of the traffic issues have been addressed, I would welcome this. It’s good to see that rather challenging the committee, the developers have worked to address some of the concerns. That’s positive to see.”
Norman Kay, district councillor for Nailsworth, said: “I opposed this application before and I oppose it now. This fresh application would not change my mind.
“That doesn’t mean to say that I’m not pulled two ways. On the one hand I know a lot of people would benefit from the good value at ALDI and that many would welcome it.
“But on the other hand we do have a number of supermarkets in the Stroud area already. I don’t want to see the viability of Nailsworth undermined.
“The last time around reports found that the Co-op and Morrisons in Nailsworth would suffer. That would still be the he case this time around, so I still oppose this development on that principle.”
The previous application for ALDI was controversially refused planning permission in November 2016 by the council’s development control committee.
Since then supermarket bosses have been back to the drawing board and entered discussions with the landowner to present a united front for a larger regeneration project.
An ALDI spokesperson confirmed: “We know many local people were disappointed when the previous application was refused, as were we.
“We have taken time to address the points raised by councillors at Development Control Committee and are confident that our new approach towards the development proposed and the preparation of a joint application deals directly with the concerns and will offer significant employment benefits for the area.”
A Wagner Estates spokesperson added: “The existing employment floor space is currently underused and of poor quality.
“The investment will facilitate and enable the intensification of employment and improvements to units at the Bath Road Trading Estate, boosting its attractiveness to occupiers.”
If the new application is successful, the developers have committed to wasting no time in progressing this year “without delay”.
As in the first application, ALDI would be built on the site of a demolished Stroud Auction Rooms, which has been offered alternative premises elsewhere on the reconfigured estate.
The landlord maintains this new supermarket would create up to 50 direct jobs opportunities for the area.
Wagner Developments also hopes further improvements would then enable a significant uplift in the overall number of jobs provided at the site from 39 to 119.
Its plans would involve rejuvenating several of the old and currently unused light industrial buildings at the north of the brown field site to create a hub for local businesses.
None of the firms currently on site would be significantly affected or forced out.
There are currently 36 units at the estate which are occupied, compared to 42 which are vacant.
Before submitting the application the Wagner Developments and ALDI returned to officers at SDC in February for further advice on how to boost their chances of success.
In a planning statement the site owner added: “At present, the majority of the existing units at the application site are vacant and in a poor state of repair.
“The ALDI portion of the proposed development will facilitate and enable the refurbishment and intensification of the employment use of the Trading Estate site. The application proposals constitute the first phase of improvements.
“The redevelopment of this brownfield site has the potential to deliver a significant planning benefit in bringing a predominantly vacant site back into beneficial employment generating use.”
After the ALDI was refused in November 2016 there was significant public outcry against the decision, with an SNJ poll seeing an overwhelming support for the store.
More than 300 people took part in an online ballot– of which 82 per cent said they were in favour of an Aldi on the Bath Road estate.