Published: 10:21, 09 February 2021
| Updated: 13:59, 09 February 2021
Aldi will not be building on a village's only recreational area after councillors unanimously rejected the scheme.
St Michaels' only designated recreation area, the land had been donated by Mary Mason of Reigate in 1935 to be preserved as an open space for "public recreational use and enjoyment".
The Aldi scheme - which would have seen the construction of a 1,880 square metre shop and 126 parking bays - hadn't been widely publicised until yesterday, and sparked outrage among residents.
Thus it was not surprising when councillors roundly criticised the idea and also said they would not assist Aldi's land agents in finding other nearby locations.
Tenterden town and Ashford borough councillor Kate Walder (Ind) started last night's internal committee discussion, saying: "Goodness... flabbergasting, flabbergasting.
"Obviously since this went public today on KentOnline, we've had a lot of reaction from residents.
"When the two recreation grounds were up for consideration in the Neighbourhood Plan, we were reassured by Ashford Borough Council planning: 'Don't worry, you don't need to give them any extra protection, they're completely protected under existing open space policies.'
"So we ignored that and they are included in the neighbourhood plan.
"So it seems nothing is safe, and the higher the level of protection one can get, the better."
Fellow town and borough councillor Callum Knowles (Con) branded the plan "speculative vulturism", suggesting it was only submitted "to put Aldi in everyone's mind so when it comes to them wanting another site they'll have made their name known".
He insisted all green space used by children and families should be protected and that it constitutes "a green oasis , not just for people but for wildlife".
"I suggest we send a resounding message [that] we're not interested," he added.
Cllr Knowles proposed the motion to reject, swiftly seconded by Tenterden Town councillor Alan Sugden. This received unanimous support.
The committee followed up the refusal to sell the land with a refusal to help Aldi's land agents find an alternative site.
Town councillor Dr Lisa Lovelidge summed up the committee's feelings, saying: "It's not for us to direct them somewhere, they can go and do their own work.
"It's not our job to do that, it's just our job to say no thank you, go away."
Again the council members voted unanimously, this time to refuse help.
The plan's rejection will come as welcome news to Ashford MP Damian Green, who told KentOnline yesterday: "I'd be very reluctant to see a green space like that taken away.
"It's a valuable space for people in St Michaels, so I think that's almost certainly the wrong location for it."
When asked whether he'd support Aldi building a shop in the nearby area, he said: "Absolutely, particularly in times like this I'm in favour of any new shops setting up just to offer greater choice for people in the area, but not on such a valuable and important green space."
During the meeting, it was decided that a working group should be set up to improve the grounds.
Among possible additions to the site are adult gym equipment, picnic tables and extra seating, as well as a new footpath to avoid visitors having to walk across muddy ground.
Also being considered is safety matting in the older children’s play area and possibly planting mature trees for screening around the site.
Any working group proposals would be put to public consultation before a decision is reached.