SUPERMARKET Aldi could be heading for Morpeth to take over the vacant Morrisons’ store.
But the international retail giant has warned that its final decision could rest on the type of car park management system adopted in the town, with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) its preferred method.
A letter seen by the Herald appearing to be signed by Aldi Property Director Simon Plumb states that the supermarket chain is interested in taking space in a subdivision of the former Morrisons’ store in Stanley Terrace, but a deal would depend on free, shot-stay parking being available.
It states: “The principle of Aldi investing in a new store in Morpeth has been agreed.
“However, fundamental to this decision to invest is a system of car park control throughout the town centre that would make space available in the car park immediately adjacent, to future Aldi customers, as well as customers to the town centre, on a short-stay basis, free of charge.”
The letter, sent to Dransfield Properties, goes on to say that an ANPR system for all of Morpeth’s short-stay car parks, with free parking for two or three hours and fines or charges applied thereafter, is “by far the preferred route”.
“This system would ensure car parking is made available to genuine short-stay customers and encourage long-stay customers and staff to utilise the long-stay car parks provided,” it states.
“Alternative systems such as disc car parking will not be as effective as people can alter the discs before the end of the time limit and or ‘car park hop’.
“If the number plate recognition system is not agreed by the council, this could considerably effect Aldi’s decision to open a unit in the centre.”
Aldi declined to comment on the letter, but Morpeth is listed on the company’s website as a location where it is actively looking for sites.
It is understood that a rival retailer is also interested in the vacant store.
Dransfield Properties spokeswoman Amanda Holmes said: “I think everyone is keen to see the former Morrisons’ unit occupied and that was a clear message that came out of the recent Morpeth Neighbourhood Plan meeting.
“Any prospective tenant will obviously want to be assured that the car park is well run and managed under whichever system of car parking management is ultimately put in place by the local authority when free parking is introduced.”
Free parking is set to come into operation in Morpeth in April, but ANPR appears to have been ruled out as a control measure.
Morpeth Town Council has already rejected the method and has submitted a car parking policy to Northumberland County Council based on a disc system.
The county’s Economic Scrutiny Committee backed the disc proposal at a meeting this week, ahead of it going before the council’s Policy Board on February 11.
Morpeth Town Council Planning and Transport Committee Chairman Ken Brown said: “The majority of the market towns will use discs to control free parking because it is the cheapest scheme.
“I had heard that Aldi wanted ANPR, although that was third-hand rather than directly from Aldi. I think the reason for that is because the car park that is more at risk of abuse from workers in the town is the former Morrisons’ car park.
“I have some sympathy with that. The chamber of trade and a few other businesses have been telling me that they are concerned that workers will misuse that car park rather than using long-stay.
“Certainly the town council will work very closely with the chamber of trade on an awareness programme for workers and I would like to think that when Aldi sees that message and sees its impact it will go ahead and sign up to buy or take on a lease for the former Morrisons’ property.”
He added: “I have suggested that an additional enforcement officer could be appointed for that car park. It would cost a little bit more, but it would be less than an ANPR system and it would be more user-friendly.”
Coun Brown also rejected a proposal by the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade to use existing ticket machines to control time-limits, saying it would be easier to cheat the system than it would be with discs.
Chamber spokesman John Beynon said: “The chamber is in favour of either the disc system or using the ticket machines, which we think would be ideal. We are not in favour at this moment in time of the camera system.
“However, a retailer coming in like Aldi would make a really good mix in the town.
“It is positive news that an international company wants to come to Morpeth.”