HUNDREDS of people packed out the Ferneham Hall to watch councillors decide whether to allow a discount supermarket to open or not.
The venue, which is normally host to plays or pantomimes, saw the planning committee take centre stage as more than 400 residents filled the auditorium to show their support for the plan at today’s meeting.
Lidl put in the application last year to turn the former Homewood Interior unit on Castle Trading Estate, in Southampton Road, Portchester into one of its stores with 70 car parking spaces.
It was met with huge support from residents, who held rallies and sent 1,096 letters of support to the council, as well as producing a petition in support.
However there were also 13 letters in opposition, raising concerns that allowing the store to open would detract business and footfall from the shops in Portchester Precinct, particularly the Co-op, which is 400m away.
There were also concerns around traffic and that allowing a retail store to open on the industrial estate could set a precedent to change the estate from a manufacturing hub to a retail destination.
Portchester resident Melvyn Rees spoke out against the plans, and he was heckled and booed.
Mr Rees said: ‘I like Lidl as a shop but this is the right shop in the wrong place.’
Mr Rees went on to raise concerns about traffic going into the site, especially as permission has been given for a new development called Trafalgar Wharf to open at the back of the trading estate.
Portchester resident Shaun Cunningham spoke in support of the plan.
He said: ‘I believe that Lidl will strengthen the shopping precinct at Portchester not weaken it and in time could very well encourage a more diverse offering. Residents wish to see competition.’
He added: ‘The message is clear - we want our store.’
His deputation roused a large round of applause.
Jason Gratton, from Lidl, also spoke to the committee. He thanked everyone for attending and for getting involved with the planning process.
He said they had sent more than 60,000 letters out and held a public consultation which 1,300 people attended.
He said their studies showed that 89 per cent of residents in Portchester supported the store.
He said: ‘Local residents have overwhelmingly voted in favour of our proposal which represents a total investment of £4m into the local community.’
Mr Gratton said the store would create 40 jobs, as well as investing £260,000 into highways improvements and that the store would be making a £210 community infrastructure levy payment to the council and a further £50,000 in payments to protect the environment.
He said that there are no other suitable sites in Portchester.
Mr Gratton added: ‘We will providing choice in a catchment currently dominated by the Co-op.’
Portchester ward councillors - Sue Bell, David Norris and Geoff Fazackarley - showed their support for the plan.
The remaining two ward councillors - Roger Price and Nick Walker - were on the planning committee.
Cllr Price said: ‘Today is a great day for Portchester. To me it is also the day where the gag comes off. I can now say what I have always wanted to say and that is that Lidl would be a great advantage to Portchester.’
Cllr Walker also supported the plan, although he did say he had some concerns over the shopping precinct.
He said: ‘I ask members of the public to please carry on supporting the precinct. If you don’t, and you lose it, it will die.
‘I apologise for the length of time this has taken as it had been a long and complicated process. We had to get it right because it had the potential to impact on the precinct.’
He added: ‘Time will tell, but I must encourage the public to carry in using the precinct or it will die.’
The councillors voted unanimously to allow the plan and a large cheer went up from the audience.