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Store wars as Morrisons warn Downham store could shut if Lidl plan is approved

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A leading supermarket chain has warned that its store in a West Norfolk town could face closure if a rival’s bid to build a new branch gets the go-ahead.

Lidl has claimed strong public support for its proposed branch on Bexwell Road, Downham, and the plan has already won the backing of town councillors.

But consultants acting for Morrisons have opposed the scheme in a letter to West Norfolk Council, claiming it breaches planning guidelines and accusing Lidl of exaggerating the case for it.

Lidl wants to open a new store in Downham, but a rival retailer says it could force them out of the town.
Lidl wants to open a new store in Downham, but a rival retailer says it could force them out of the town.

The letter from agents Peacock and Smith said the development would have a “significantly adverse impact” by reducing the town centre’s estimated annual turnover of £13.6 million.

It argued that the losses would primarily affect the established town centre supermarkets – Iceland, Morrisons and Tesco.

The letter continues: “Based on figures provided to us by Morrisons, we forecast that it will significantly reduce the turnover of the Morrisons store, bringing into question the continuing viability of the store.”

It warned the chain has already shut four stores which were deemed to be “underperforming”, and added: “The Morrisons store in Downham Market Town Centre is vulnerable to impact.”

Lidl says its store would create around 40 new jobs, improve consumer choice and promote more sustainable shopping journeys.

Documents submitted to the council on its behalf also point out that current shop vacancy rates in Downham are lower than the national average and there are no suitable units available for Lidl to move into.

They added: “Further discount convenience retail provision will provide much needed choice and competition – as there are no discount retailers - within Downham Market, particularly in light of its expanding residential population.”

But the letter on behalf of Morrisons claimed Lidl’s expectation of customers travelling to the Downham site from villages such as Watlington “exaggerated the expenditure available” to Downham.

The intervention also echoes concerns raised about the scheme when it was backed by town councillors at a special meeting last December.

During that session, county councillor Tony White warned the development would lead to the closure of many town centre shops and claimed out of town schemes had already done significant harm to Lynn.

However, a clear majority of public comments published on the borough council’s website so far are backing the Lidl application.

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