Aldi and Lidl stores together

Lidl and Aldi have ramped up their hunt for new sites as fresh insight emerged into a pattern of planning objections from Tesco.

The UK’s biggest retailer has consistently submitted planning objections to the discounters’ proposed new stores within 3.5 miles of one of its own over the course of several months, The Grocer has learned.

Complex objections citing numerous grounds are usually received by the relevant local authority less than 48 hours before the planning committee is due to consider the application, making it difficult for council officers to respond in time. The practice means consideration has to be deferred, often by a couple of months.

When an application is considered and approved, Tesco routinely issues a so-called pre-action protocol letter advising of its intent to seek a judicial review. The result is further delay, even if no judicial review is subsequently sought.

Tesco engages Martin Robeson Planning Practice in making the objections, which add about six months to the planning application process but ultimately are rarely successful in blocking approval.

Lidl this week published its latest property requirements brochure, including a list of hundreds of desired locations across the country, with a £20,000-plus finder’s fee for identifying a suitable site.

Aldi called on members of the public to vote for where it should open as a priority and said it would take the results into account in planning its new store pipeline. Aldi already lobbies the public to write to councils in support of its planning applications. The new tactic could let it gauge backing before submitting plans.

In one of its latest objections, Tesco this week argued a new Aldi store in Amersham, Buckinghamshire – which had gained more than 1,500 letters of support from residents – would harm nearby Grade II listed buildings. Councillors voted to defer the decision on the application.

In another, Aldi’s plans for a store in Perth were blocked last week when a judge upheld a legal challenge by Tesco to the local authority’s approval.

Hannah Quarterman, head of planning at law firm Hogan Lovells, said there was a “long history” of supermarkets using the planning system “as one of a number of tools to protect their positions”.

Another planning lawyer said: “What Tesco is doing now is what we used to do in the mid to late 1990s when it was called the ‘race for space’ and supermarkets went hammer and tongs over every out of town centre site.”

Tesco maintains it does not object to the vast majority of competitor store plans, that it only ever does so on material planning considerations and never on the basis of loss of trade or to cause delay, and that it has no policy pertaining to plans for stores within 3.5 miles of its own.

Alistair Watson, UK head of planning at Taylor Wessing, said: “If there are good planning arguments, anyone can make them. The fact is, if you have a good planning case, you should get planning permission.”