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Aldi store will create 40 jobs – but what will the effect be on the town independents?

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: April 26, 2014

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Aldi could be coming to Ashbourne. Gareth Butterfield looks at what that might mean for the town.

IT'S a proposal for a new store that could create 40 jobs in Ashbourne and transform a forgotten patch of wasteland on the town's boundary.

When we broke the news that Aldi was planning to build a supermarket in Ashbourne, it was almost unanimously welcomed with open arms by our online audience.

But that does not necessarily mean everyone is happy about its potential arrival.

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There are plenty in Ashbourne who would argue that having a company which is known for its low prices and aggressive marketing set up shop might harm town centre independent retailers, who could struggle to compete.

Ultimately, it will be up to Derbyshire Dales District Council to decide on whether the store, which is planned for land off Carnation Way, next to the Stepping Stones pub, can have a place in the town – but Aldi's bosses are making sure their new relationship with Ashbourne gets off on the right foot.

A public exhibition is being held next month, when the Aldi team will talk residents through the plans.

The exhibition will take place on Friday, May 9, between 3pm and 7pm, at Ashbourne Town Hall.

An Aldi spokesman said: "The site in Carnation Way is an excellent opportunity to offer the local community an improved choice when completing their shopping, as well as increasing competition in Ashbourne, where there is a limited offering for residents.

"We believe the proposed store would complement the traders in Ashbourne, which in turn will help to keep people spending locally – when otherwise shoppers might be travelling as far as Derby or Hilton to visit one of our stores.

"As well as providing up to 40 full and part-time jobs aimed at local people, our customers save between 20 and 50 percent on their shopping without compromising on quality.

"We are excited about the prospect of coming to Ashbourne and are keen to ensure that the views of the local community are heard before we go any further."

The firm said it had a commitment to keep the town updated on its plans. The spokesman added: "We are sending a community newsletter with a feedback card to over 4,100 households in order to better understand local views and we look forward to welcoming people to our public exhibition in May."

Ashbourne is no stranger to being the subject of big decisions concerning household names.

The construction of Waterside Park on land formerly occupied by the Nestle factory in 2008 was given planning consent based on it providing a home for "bulky-goods retail", which would include firms such as Currys, DFS and the like.

However, the arrival of Waterside Park could not have come at a worse time. The nation was about to slip into a massive recession and the sort of companies that might once have happily entertained a presence in Ashbourne were too busy trying to save themselves from collapse to even contemplate investing in a new store.

Having said that, Homebase was healthy and happy enough to throw its hat into the ring and it became the first store in the new retail park to be served by a "shopper hopper" bus service ferrying people from the town to the Clifton Road site.

It was not too long before neighbours started arriving. Selecta-Tyre popped up on a space near Spire Business Park, Majestic Wine and Halfords became Homebase's neighbours and, at Carnation Way, Marston's built the successful Stepping Stones pub and Travelodge built a hotel.

Despite the long run of success for Waterside Park, which was now busy with people shopping at the thriving businesses, it still remained in the headlines as council planners were met with applications for changes of use at many of the units.

This became interesting when catalogue giant Argos said it intended to move in.

Through comments made to the News Telegraph, it was clear Ashbourne was ready for an Argos but planners argued that the firm would have made a smaller impact on independent traders if it was to set up shop in the town centre, not in an out-of-town retail park with free parking.

Much to the dismay of many, bosses decided not to fight the decision and instead went cold on the idea, leaving the unit they had their eye on standing empty. The big one, in terms of controversy at least, was the proposed arrival of M&S Simply Food.

It flew in the face of restrictions placed on Waterside Park that would have stopped food being sold there, so planning permission was needed and a lengthy battle with the planners ensued.

Through independent surveys, the park's owners at the time, Cedar House Investments, provided evidence that the town wanted M&S, but question-marks remained over the harm placing the supermarket out-of-town might do to the high-street shops in Ashbourne.

It took a monumental effort to persuade the district council to welcome M&S but permission was granted and its success is obvious.

Ever since M&S was invited to the party, other big names have gate-crashed their way in without so much as a raised eyebrow.

The prospect of a 99p Store in Ashbourne might once have filled the planners with dread, but it slipped quickly and quietly through the planning process and has become another big success story.

Backing on to the properties in Bernard Gadsby Close, units were built for bus firm Trent Barton and Countrywide following their displacement as part of the proposed extension of Sainsbury's in nearby Cooper's Mill.

Selecta-Tyre has expanded, Spire House is buzzing with new businesses and Elim Pentecostal Church is becoming a valuable addition to the town, hosting many big public meetings.

Surely it is impossible to argue that Waterside Park has not been a resounding success story. But, importantly, what has the cost been to the town centre?

Rather than seeing the collapse of most of our independent stores, as some feared would happen, the town is holding its own, with only a small number of empty shops and footfall looking steady, if not up to full strength.

An argument that was put forward during the M&S planning battle was that it could help retain shoppers that might otherwise travel outside of Ashbourne. This is the consideration the planners will need to make as we all stare down the barrel of the final, warts 'n' all completion of Waterside Park.

People will ask whether Aldi, which would become Ashbourne's fifth supermarket, suits the town's image – but its welcome from News Telegraph readers suggests that is not as much a material concern, rather an underlying bone of contention over what the future should hold for our growing population.

Some will remember that when Waterside Park was first mooted, the land Aldi is trying to stake a claim on was earmarked for a drive-through fast-food restaurant.

And so the question then becomes: What would suit Ashbourne best? A much-loved, award-winning supermarket or the next multi-national that comes along? Whatever that may be.

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