Slow planning process delays €100m investment by Lidl

Company criticises ‘anti-competitive’ and ‘frivolous’ objections

The German discounter has 156 stores in Ireland and is aiming to have 200 in the next five years, but delays in the planning process may continue to thwart those plans

The German discounter has 156 stores in Ireland and is aiming to have 200 in the next five years, but delays in the planning process may continue to thwart those plans

 

Planning issues for Lidl will delay €100 million worth of investment in new sites, which would have created 200 new jobs, the company’s property director said.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Alan Barry noted Lidl would have invested €300 million in developing new stores in Ireland this year, but that delays to the planning process means they can only commit to investing €200 million.

The investment means that instead of creating 600 jobs this year, Lidl will only be in a position to create 400 jobs.

“We can’t spend the money quick enough, effectively because we can’t build the stores without planning,” he said.

Mr Barry was speaking after tech giant Apple announced it would no longer pursue development at an Athenry site on the back of objections which meant the project was delayed.

Apple had originally applied for permission in early 2015 and was granted permission by both Galway County Council and An Bord Pleanála (ABP) before being further delayed by objectors seeking a judicial review of ABP’s decision.

Lidl is familiar with this type of delay and cited the example of a Castleknock development which has just got the go-ahead this year after the company initially applied for planning permission in 2014.

‘Frivolous’

The German discounter has 156 stores in Ireland and is aiming to have 200 in the next five years.

But delays in the planning process may continue to thwart those plans, and Mr Barry flagged that over 90 per cent of the company’s developments over the last two years were objected to. Lidl had 36 developments in total over the last two years, the majority of which were new stores.

“Of the 36 stores, Tesco or RGData objected to 32 and, of the 36 we lodged, only two were refused. It shows the frivolous nature of the objections,” Mr Barry said.

RGData – the Retail, Grocery, Dairy and Allied Trades Association – represents more than 4,000 independent stores, including SuperValu supermarkets, in Ireland. Its chief executive, Tara Buckley, maintains it has a “policy of upholding the retail planning guidelines” and that its objections are never vexatious.

However, Mr Barry flagged the example of a site in Ennis, 0.95km outside of the town, which RGData objected to on May 2nd. A letter sent by Tara Buckley said Lidl’s development could compromise the “delivery of town-centre expansion”. Another development, 1.25km outside of Ennis, understood by Lidl to be a SuperValu site, has not been objected to by RGData. Despite being closely aligned with SuperValu, Ms Buckley says the group has objected to SuperValu developments in the past.

While there are a series of costs associated with delays caused by objectors – including, for example, a cost of around €50,000 per development that has to be brought to ABP – more significant is the cost lost as a result of delayed store opening for Lidl, Mr Barry explained.

‘Anti-competitive’

“The process is being abused and done in an anti-competitive manner. The planning system for us is being abused by Tesco and lobbyist RGData,” he said.

In a statement, Tesco said it “only ever makes submissions on planning applications on a case-by-case basis and where there is a legitimate planning ground or precedent to justify it, for example on matters in relation to zoning, retail policies or traffic concerns”.

“Our aim is to ensure that the planning environment considers all retail developments on the same merits.”

Mr Barry flagged a report by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) in 2008 which highlighted that, compared to mainland Europe, our planning system allows competitors to delay the planning process. No action came from that report, however, and Mr Barry sees no indication of imminent change in the process.

“I’ve come to terms with the process – I do think it’s interesting over the last couple of days when people have been criticising the planning process and I don’t think there’s been enough emphasis placed on the abuse of that process,” Mr Barry said.