Well, after months of anxiety, strategy meetings, planning and writing letters, we have done everything in our power to stop an Aldi store being built on our doorstep. The date for objections closed last Friday, so now it’s just a waiting game.
We have to be sanguine, and accept that local opposition to a proposal is not always enough, but we have gathered significant objections from many different local organisations as well as individuals: the Local Amenity Group, the PTA from the local primary school, one of the bordering community councils (though not the other, alas), the Scottish Grocers Federation, our MSP and MP. We compiled a petition of over 400 names, and dozens of our customers and neighbours sent letters to the council, and we helped many more who were not confident writing themselves by composing letters for them to sign. Objections vary from the impact on existing local businesses, to the loss of green space, traffic concerns, and access for the disabled and mums with buggies. Even the Environment Agency has expressed concern over drainage.
In a final effort to explain to residents just how intrusive and inappropriate the scale of the development would be, we took a leaf out of Aldi’s own book, and held our own exhibition in the local library, using large mounted boards to demonstrate what we felt were the main issues at stake. Over 100 people attended, and 95% of them filled in feedback forms expressing their own objections, which we also forwarded to the planning department. What was most apparent on the day was that nobody had really any idea what the development would ultimately look like, until they saw the A1 blowup map of the proposal which we provided for everyone to study. That was a revelation, and changed many minds in our favour.
So the poor planning officer has a lot of stuff to wade through before coming to his recommendation - thereafter, the council planning committee will sit and make its own decision. We have learned a great deal about the planning process in Scotland over the last few months, and much of it is surprising and quite disconcerting. One conclusion that we have reached is that the process is very arbitrary, and that we as an industry need more protection from encroachment of big business into our local and neighbourhood areas, and, along with the SGF, we are lobbying hard in Holyrood to heighten awareness of these issues with MSPs, who ultimately are the only ones in a position to legislate to protect us.
This is probably the biggest issue many of us will face in the next few years, and we all need to get more politically active to bring about change if we are to stop the march of the big boys.