After hundreds of people signed a petition opposing the opening of a Lidl in Berkhamsted, just one person spoke out against the proposal at a meeting of town planners.
The supermarket scheme made national news earlier this year after popular rag the Daily Mail latched on to a story that had been published on the Gazette’s website.
Within days, film crews from the BBC and ITV were in the town, gathering people’s opinion for their news programmes.
Now 356 people have signed a petition against the opening of the Lidl – and 683 have signed a separate petition in favour of it.
But just one member of the public voiced their opinion on the matter when it was discussed by Berkhamsted Town Council’s planning committee last night.
There were seven other people at the meeting – but none of them spoke.
And the one who did speak – Geraldine Corry – is herself a former member of the town council, and was once its mayor.
After debating planning policy surrounding the proposed Lidl for more than an hour, the committee decided that it would object to the plan.
The council is now compiling a 10-page report to list its objections in full.
Councillor Garrick Stevens said: “If you want to shop in a Lidl or an Aldi, you can pop in a car and go down the road to Hemel or Aylesbury.”
He said that Dacorum Borough Council’s core strategy for development up to 2031 only allows for 1,000 square metres of convenience stores in the Berkhamsted area.
This has already been filled by the recent opening of Berkhamsted town centre’s Marks & Spencer Simply Food outlet, he added.
He said: “If you go beyond that, you start to undermine the continued vitality and vibrancy of shopping in the town.”
Councillors fear the out-of-town Lidl – which would be built next to the A251 in Gossoms End, near Billet Lane – could deter people from visiting shops in Berkhamsted town centre.
Councillor Penella Warren said: “The core strategy has been debated long and hard and was finally signed last year and this overturns it. If you overturn it on this situation, what else will be overturned?”
Mr Stevens said that previous plans for a new Tesco supermarket in Stag Lane, Berkhamsted, were rejected because it would have been too far away from the town centre.
He said that the borough council and Planning Inspectorate ruled then that shopping should be concentrated in Berkhamsted town centre.
Mrs Warren said: “Now Dacorum planners are saying it does not have to be – you have got a complete change of direction.”
She said the borough council officers would have given Lidl planning policy advice about the proposed store.
Tesco’s plans had to be dropped, and in the end a 2006 planning application for 150 homes on the site was submitted instead.
The Lidl proposal includes a development of 30 flats – 10 of which would be affordably priced – above its supermarket.
But councillors fear the scheme could bring ‘traffic chaos’ to the nearby junction between the A4251 and Billet Lane.
Mrs Warren said most people visiting the proposed Lidl would be in their cars, as Berkhamsted’s steep hills deter people from walking.
She also said: “Lidl has sent out 19,000 fliers as far as Leighton Buzzard and people are not going to walk there from Leighton Buzzard.”
Councillors also said the use of the site should not change from the class B business units now based there to the class A supermarket.
The properties now on the site where the Lidl would be built are used by Davis & Samson Demolition Contractors and Roy Chapman Cars.
Mr Stevens said: “It’s not anti-Lidl. It’s anti anyone wanting to change the classified use of the buildings in that area.”