Aldi is calling on shoppers to lobby council bosses over a "frustrating" planning condition preventing work from starting on a new store.
The German supermarket chain gained planning permission last November for its second shop in Ashford on the Waterbrook Park estate off the A2070.
But a condition imposed by Ashford Borough Council (ABC) means contractors cannot start work until progress is made on a separate convenience store on the nearby Finberry housing estate.
The discount retailer has now launched a petition against the move as it fears Finberry residents "will continue to have no local foodstore for several years".
In a statement, a spokesman said: "The new Aldi store has been unable to open due to a condition on the outline planning consent which states that a store cannot be opened until a smaller, local district store in nearby Finberry has been progressed.
“When planning was granted in 2022 for the Aldi we had expected the local district store in Finberry (which is not an Aldi site) to be in place by now.
“Unfortunately, this smaller store continues to be delayed in the planning system by the nutrient neutrality embargo, but we understand that things are now progressing slowly.
“We know this delay is frustrating for our Ashford residents, particularly the residents of Finberry who remain without a local convenience store.
“That is why we are asking ABC to remove the restrictive condition so that Aldi can press ahead with the Waterbrook store immediately, which it is ready to do.
“This will not affect the smaller Finberry store from coming forward separately, as we believe there is a need for both.
“But it will mean that residents can finally have the shopping facilities they need without further delay.”
In east Kent, the building of scores of developments has been held up by nutrient neutrality rules protecting wetlands and rivers.
It came after Natural England imposed blanket opposition on developments due to the pollution of the Stodmarsh Nature Reserve, near Canterbury.
Earlier this month, residents in Finberry were sent letters about the petition which is also being advertised in Aldi’s current Ashford store in Victoria Road.
It is not clear exactly how many people have signed the petition, but it is understood to be more than 300.
The chain says it is "ready to start construction” on Waterbrook Park and “could open in 2024" if allowed.
But Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con), ward member for Mersham, Sevington South with Finberry, feels a petition is not the right way for the chain to go about things.
He said: “Why didn't they say this when the planning application was originally discussed?
“It is far too late to come back after the planning application has been agreed to say ‘no, we don’t like these conditions’.
“Yes we want the Aldi, but we want it built in a responsible and sustainable way, to create the right kind of community in Finberry.
“If a developer doesn't like a condition the correct thing to do would be to resubmit the application. I don't see the value of their petition. It's an odd way of going about things.”
The separate convenience store, put forward by The Ashford Great Park Partnership, is planned to go near Bullfinch Avenue about 150 yards away from Finberry Primary School.
Cllr Bartlett added: “The planning condition is mild, it requires that the construction contract has been led for the building of a convenience store, not that the store has to be open.
“If the land owner can't agree on a contract to build a store on Finberry within 12 months, I would be surprised.”
On Monday, KentOnline asked shoppers visiting Aldi’s current store in Victoria Road what they thought about the petition.
Romney Marsh resident Neil Benton, 60, says he has already signed it.
“I think it is important that Aldi develops,” he said.
“I know people who work for Aldi and they are good employers.
“Ashford has people who need jobs as shops have closed in town and I think Aldi offers a good service and value for money.
“There is plenty of scope for another Aldi; a competitive market gives good value for money for customers.”
Shoppers Donna Freeman and Valerie Farley say they would use the new store as it will be closer to their homes in Brabourne Lees.
“It would mean we wouldn't have to come into town,” Ms Freeman said.
“It might be better for parking too because the current Aldi has quite a small car park for such a busy store.”
Garry Harrison, of Beaver Lane, says he will support Aldi’s petition as it could be good for jobs in the town.
The 54-year-old said: “We go to about four different supermarkets every week depending on what we need so we can get the best prices.
“I would support a second Aldi in Ashford because any new business in the area is a good thing for jobs.”
Matt Penniall, from Chartfields, says bosses should “hurry up” and build the store.
“Tesco is our local but we like to have the choice,” explained the 74-year-old.
“We might find we would use the new store more than the current one because we are up and down the A2070 to go to the M20 most days.”
In response to the petition, ABC says it is "working closely with Aldi and the landowner to find a way forward which will allow their development to commence".
“The restriction refers to an obligation in a section 106 agreement that prevents Aldi from opening there until the proposed local centre at nearby Finberry has been delivered," a spokesman said.
“This was to avoid the opening of Aldi impacting potential foodstore/other retail services at Finberry which would undermine the sustainability of the development."
A giant warehouse linked to distribution giant Amazon is also set to be built on the estate after plans were approved by ABC in 2021.
On the other side of town, the council is yet to decide on plans for another Aldi in Canterbury Road, Kennington.
The supermarket submitted a bid for a store on a prime piece of scrubland next to Holiday Inn last summer.
To view the petition, visit www.planningpotential.co.uk/waterbrook