A bid to create more than 30 jobs at a new supermarket in the town can now go ahead after a developer won an appeal.
Scottish Borders Council knocked back Wilton Mills Limited’s proposal to build an 18,500 sq. ft. Aldi store in Commercial Road in December, insisting there was “no spare retail capacity for a class one food store in Hawick”.
But on Monday, SBC’s nine-strong local review body, chaired by Hawick and Hermitage councillor, Ron Smith, overturned the planners’ decision to reject the plans – and the Hawick News understands the new supermarket could be open for business next spring.
After the meeting, Wilton Mills Ltd director Gavin Stevenson told us he was absolutely delighted and thanked the local review body for its unanimous support.
He added: “We are also extremely grateful for the unending support of our community representatives, including ward councillors Watson McAteer and Stuart Marshall, and we would also like to thank Marion Short and her colleagues on Hawick Community Council for their continued support in what has been a long and sometimes protracted process.”
Mr Stevenson also acknowledged the “loyal support of Aldi” who he said had kept their commitment to Hawick.
Councillor McAteer hailed the Aldi decision as great news for Hawick and the Borders, and said the new store would create at least 35 jobs and provide greater choice to shoppers and visitors to the town.
He continued: “This will be a significant part of Hawick’s regeneration, making Commercial Road an attractive and vibrant area of our town.”
Echoing Mr McAteer’s comments, Councillor Marshall added: “I welcome this sensible decision that will bring a derelict site in the centre of Hawick back to life.”
He said the new supermarket would bring choice and create jobs, as well as attract more businesses that would complement the redevelopment of Commercial Road.
“We must never forget that there were two choices on the table at Monday’s meeting,” asserted Mr Marshall. “The proposal from Aldi to set up business in the town, or the prospect of a derelict piece of wasteland standing dormant for many years.”
Councillor Alastair Cranston told us he had met with a Wilton Mills Ltd representative to discuss why Aldi was so keen to come to Hawick.
He continued: “The benefit must be to the consumer who has more purchase options which should have a positive effect on competitive pricing and service quality.” Mr Cranston also alluded to the jobs boost at the new store.
It was “positive for Hawick behind and in front of the counter,” he added.
There has been opposition to Aldi from townsfolk and businesses – including nine letters of objection and two petitions containing a total of 328 names – with dissenters citing their fears over the impact the new Aldi store will have on town-centre trade.
Sharing these concerns is Councillor Ron Smith who told us he had great reservations about the new Aldi but had to accept the majority decision of the local review body.
He continued: “I wish I could be as certain of the benefits to be gained as certain Hawick councillors seem to be. Clearly this store will have an impact on the High Street, and will pose even more challenges to those shopkeepers.
“Much was made by the developer of changes in shopping patterns in recent years which have favoured discount retailers such as Aldi and Lidl, but I would also stress the increasing role of internet shopping for groceries which are then delivered by van. This, I believe, is a further factor which will undermine the optimistic figures put forward to suggest peaceful coexistence.”
Also concerned that Aldi would have a detrimental effect on existing businesses, Councillor George Turnbull said that although the new store would improve the look of a derelict site, he was worried over the long-term effects of the development on both the town centre and the other supermarkets.
“You can only cut the cake into so many slices and I fear the slices will get thinner, putting even more pressure on several businesses that have experienced very hard times over the last few years,” he said.
Robert Stoddart, property director for Aldi stores in Scotland, added: “This is good news for Hawick for the investment and jobs in prospect. We look forward to bringing Aldi to local shoppers who have given us such unstinting support.
“Now that we have won our appeal we look forward to sitting down with our development partners to plan the next steps – procurement and store design – which will then allow us to set out our development programme for delivering Aldi for the town.”
Monday’s decision must now be ratified by Scottish Ministers before the development can begin because the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) had lodged an objection relating to flood risk.
Councillor Davie Paterson did not respond to our request for a comment.