Asda hits out at flaws in planning policy

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Asda has hit out at what it percieves to be an “overly bureaucratic” planning system, saying it has been a “major obstacle” to investment.

In a letter to councillors the retailer said millions of pounds in investment cash has had to be returned to its parent company because of planning and affordability issues right across Northern Ireland.

Its ‘Barriers to Growth’ document said forthcoming changes to the planning process represented a “missed opportunity” for delivering meaningful reform.

The company, which is Northern Ireland’s second biggest supermarket chain employing some 5,000 staff in 17 stores and a distribution centre,
said it was planning to invest a further £280m to double its workforce and the number of stores.

However, the retailer said the current planning process, judicial reviews and local development plans had placed “unnecessary obstacles” in its way.

It said it faced a £250,000 cost before it could even ascertain if an application for a new store had any potential and that a successful application would face taxation charges of £1.5m and further costs of £500,000 per store.

“The Executive must ensure it delivers an efficient and responsive system that does not continue to act as a barrier to investment, growth and competition,” the document said.

It also said there should be a “clear, concise and unambiguous” Planning Policy Statement and a “Competition Test” to ensure a fair level of competition across all parts of the retail market.

It has made 26 recommendations for the panning system, including agreed timescales, capped fees and training for councillors after planning is devolved to the new super-councils proposed for 2014.

However, despite the frustrations with the system the retailer has told the Times it remains committed to plans to build a new store near Monkstown.

Oliver Jones from Asda said: “We are committed to opening a new store in Newtownabbey which will not only provide a significant boost to the local economy but provide local residents with more shopping choice. Our recent community consultation highlighted this need, with 92 per cent of residents saying they felt Newtownabbey needed more choice and with this mind we hope to progress this very soon.”

On Monday, May 13 the council’s planning committee approved a request from Asda to present its concerns to members.