Councillors approved plans to build an Aldi supermarket in Oakham, going against their own officers’ recommendations.
More than 250 people packed into Rutland County Museum to hear the debate by Rutland County Council’s development control committee over the plans to build the 1,485sqm store on land between the A606 Oakham bypass and Lands’ End Way.
So many people attended that the meeting was moved from its planned venue of the council offices in Catmose minutes before the meeting was due to start at 6pm on Tuesday night.
Planning officers had recommended the application be refused, saying that the area was designed for employment use for businesses such as offices, warehousing and manufacturing. Officers also said the supermarket would have a “detrimental impact upon linked trips to Oakham town centre”.
But in view of the huge public support for the plans, members of the development control committee decided to approve the plans with 10 members voting in favour of approving the plans with one abstention.
Chairman of the development control committee meeting Edward Baines (Con) opened the meeting by saying it was “tremendous to see so many people taking an interest in Rutland and the planning process”.
The mayor of Oakham Jayne Woodcock and Aldi’s property director for the Athestone region Ciaran Aldridge spoke ahead of the debate, which lasted more than an hour, urging councillors to vote in favour of the store, which will create up to 40 jobs.
Coun Woodcock said the recommendation to refuse planning permission was “directly in conflict with the wishes of the town residents”, which drew a huge round of applause from the audience.
She said Oakham Town Council had recommended the plans be approved after carrying out research, which showed that 80 per cent of residents were in favour of an Aldi supermarket.
Mr Aldridge told the meeting that many people from the county were already shopping at the Aldi in Corby.
He said the new store would represent a “multi-million pound investment”.
He also said the firm had committed to a £100,000 payment for improvements to Oakham town centre, as part of its legal section 106 agreements.
Mr Aldridge also pointed out the Aldi store only accounted for six per cent of the total site allocated for employment use . He added: “The Aldi proposal is a sustainable economic development.”
Councillors also heard that there had been hundreds of letters and e-mails of support from members of the community, as well as two petitions set up in favour of the plans and a Facebook campaign.
Planning officers felt that the economic benefits would “not outweigh the loss of employment land”.
But Coun Richard Gale (UKIP) told the meeting he didn’t believe the loss of employment land was “relevant” as a supermarket would create more jobs than warehousing, adding: “I wholeheartedly support this application.”
Coun Charlotte Vernon (Con) said she had received more than 150 e-mails, which “clearly shows the depth of public feeling”.
She added: “I think there is no doubt that Rutland residents do want this application.
“I do feel that if we approve there will be economic benefits for Rutland as a whole, not just Oakham.”
Coun Marc Oxley (Ind) said he regularly travelled to Aldi in Corby and Morrisons in Stamford, but said when he visited Morrisons he always stopped in the town as well. He believed Aldi shoppers in Oakham would do the same and visit the town centre.
Coun Jeff Dale (Ind) drew one of many rounds of applause of the evening, when he said: “I think this is ideal for Oakham. We need it, we want it, let’s get on with it.”
And Coun Chris Parsons (Con) and Coun Carolyn Cartwright (Con) said the store itself would create employment opportunities.
After the meeting Mr Aldridge said he was “absolutely delighted” that council members had agreed to support the proposals and said that Aldi had been seeking to build a store in Oakham for more than 10 years.
A proposal to build a Sainsbury’s store on the same site in 2011 was rejected because the land was designated for employment use. Sainsbury’s later won permission to demolish the former Rutland County College site in Barleythorpe Road, Oakham.