Food warehouse

‘Retail parks, where the expansion of our Food Warehouse stores is focused, are subject to a myriad of historical restrictions,’ said Walker

Nearly every store Iceland opens is subject to lengthy planning delays thanks to under-resourced local councils and overcomplicated planning rules, according to the supermarket’s MD Richard Walker.

The delays are holding up the investment and access to jobs needed for the government to achieve its ambition of ‘levelling up’ the country, Walker argues in a new blog.

It follows the publication earlier this month of a new government white paper on levelling up.

Walker said he welcomed the commitments in the white paper “but some of the change we desperately need is much simpler”.

“Access to jobs, regardless of where we live, is absolutely crucial to breaking the current link between geography and destiny,” he said.

“At Iceland, we are eager to open more stores that would create new jobs, enhance consumer choice, breathe new life into moribund areas, give a much-needed boost to civic pride, and enable us to pay more tax. But we are hamstrung by a malfunctioning planning system that imposes huge delays in securing the necessary approvals.

“Almost every new store we want to open is delayed by difficulties in obtaining planning permission. In Derry/Londonderry, we are trying to invest £1.2m to open a new Food Warehouse store on an established retail park, creating 30 new jobs. So far our planning application has been mired in the system for 18 months, and I am told it could well take another year before it is finally determined.

“That is an extreme example, but long delays are common right across the UK. In Tonbridge, where we now have the opening of a new Food Warehouse store scheduled for this summer, the go-ahead was secured only after two separate planning applications and an appeal, together taking up almost a full year.

“In Exeter, our landlord submitted a planning application for a new Food Warehouse in July last year, to which we are still awaiting a response. I could go on…”

Walker blamed under-resourcing of council planning departments, saying Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove could “break this logjam at a stroke”.

He said measures taken to simplify high street planning rules in the pandemic should be extended to retail parks.

“Retail parks, where the expansion of our chain of larger Food Warehouse stores is focused, are subject to a myriad of historical restrictions, making the planning process complex and encumbered with red tape,” he said, adding: “If he [Gove] could also extend the simplification of planning rules from high streets to retail parks, so much the better.”