Published: 16:14, 14 October 2021
| Updated: 16:31, 14 October 2021
Plans for Medway's first Lidl have been approved for a fourth time and a rival supermarket has been criticised for ‘gangster-like behaviour’ over its opposition to the proposals.
The German company was first given the nod to open a store off Medway Road, Gillingham, in April last year.
However, the bid was stopped in its tracks by Asda, which has a branch just yards away in Pier Approach Road. It argued the Lidl store could harm town centre retailers.
As a result, the plans had been considered by Medway councillors three times, most recently in February, before returning to the authority's planning committee agenda this week.
And yesterday, for the fourth time, planning permission was granted.
Cllr Martin Potter (Con) said: “I continue to support this application as I have in principle since it first came to this committee many moons ago. My colleagues are incredibly disappointed in Asda.
“I think they are behaving like gangsters with deep pockets trying to run their rivals out of town, not dissimilar to the Las Vegas mobsters who tried to keep their rivals off the strip back in the day.
“I fully support this store, local people want this store and this should go ahead.”
Access to the store will be from Medway Road and there will be 96 parking spaces.
Previous concerns surrounded the amount of extra traffic the store would generate.
However, highway improvements, footpaths and a crossing to the nearby student accommodation are due to be installed, as well as plenty of bus and cycle facilities.
A judicial review challenge brought by Asda earlier this year argued other locations for the supermarket had not been assessed properly.
The council accepted it had not advised members on whether alternative sites where there was a lower risk of flooding were reviewed during their last debate on the plans.
Dave Harris, the council’s head of planning, explained at yesterday's meeting how 28 substitute sites in the area had since been considered.
Most were dismissed for being unsuitable, already occupied or having a higher flood risk than the Medway Road site. These included Machine Shop 8 neighbouring Dockside Outlet Centre and an industrial estate off Owens Way, Gillingham.
Cllr Stuart Tranter (Con) said: “There might be a few cynics in the world that would think that Asda’s objective here was something to do with their own competitive position rather than the flood risk to the good people of Medway.
“I feel very comfortable in supporting this application and I very much hope we don’t hear from Asda again.”
Cllr Dan McDonald (Lab) agreed.
He said: “This isn’t the first time we’ve had this application at this committee and I find it quite a poor show from the competitor here.
“The applicants have jumped every hurdle they can to try and make sure this works and we know the residents want it, we know there is a need, we know the competition is healthy.
“I do not believe anything stops us agreeing on this application. They’ve been waiting too long.”
Asda had argued Lidl's plans to open a 1,669-square metre store across the road from its much larger Gillingham Pier superstore would cause harm and damage to retail offers in the town centre.
Tesco, which has a store 3.5 miles away at Bowaters Roundabout, also raised similar concerns.
Being just a stone's throw away from the University of Kent campus, the new Lidl plans are already proving a hit with money-saving youths.
Rhodri Andrews is a final year student, studying French language.
Looking forward to the new store after yesterday's decision, he said: "The Gillingham Asda is already decently priced but a Lidl will be even cheaper.
"Uni students always have money on their mind so this is a great addition to the area, we can get cheap essentials without walking to the high street or Aldi.
"A new Lidl is a big bonus to the Gillingham area."
Asda has been contacted for comment.