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ASDA takes questions on store’s extension plan

ASDA presented plans for an extension to its Frome store to a recent meeting at Frome Library, responding to questions from members of the public. 

Although the turnout from the public was low, with less than 30 people in attendance, the two main concerns were the effect an extended store will have on town centre trade, and the “bland” design of the extension.

The application for the store on Warminster Road would see the gross floor area of the store increase from 5,870 sq m to 7,707 sq m. ASDA told the meeting that 677sq m of the net sales floor space of the extension would be for convenience (food) goods, while 861 sq m would be for non-food items.

ASDA’s planning consultants RPS say that the store is currently overtrading, causing congestion and queues. ASDA say they want to improve the shopping environment, install a larger café, bring a broader and deeper range of the current produce areas, and add a home shopping hub for internet orders.

Oliver Jones from ASDA explained, “We really want to give it [the store] a bit of breathing space, keep ourselves competitive, and make sure we have a good experience for our customers.”

The design of the store has been a source of contention since the planning application was submitted. A northern extension of 1,837sq m gross, at a loss of 46 car parking spaces, has been chosen by ASDA and their planning consultants. Extending upwards with a mezzanine floor had been discounted as unsuitable, while ASDA deemed a western extension as “overdominant”. Instead, they say a northern extension is “in keeping with scale and mass” and “subservient” to the main store,

But images of the design, already described by local groups as a “bland box”, failed to impress at the meeting.

One attendee said, “The fact is you are building an extension bigger than a third the size of your store,” while another told ASDA, “You’ve said that the design is in order to work with the existing building – I think it’s been totally compromised.” Other comments described the design as “a cheap box” and “architecturally, it’s rubbish.”

Concern over the increasing presence of supermarkets in the town – and their effect on town centre trade – was one of the key issues for the audience, and concerns were raised about their growth continuing. One person commented, “There’s more supermarkets in Frome than practically any other town in the country.” In particular, it was questioned whether planning permission would have been granted originally, had the original application been for the size of the now planned extended store.

ASDA say that the diversion of trade would be primarily from outside of Frome and from main rival Sainsbury’s, which is currently “substantially” bigger in size. The supermarket chain said that a lot of their extra trade would come “from outside the immediate area” and so “bring trade into town”. ASDA say their development would not hinder a development on the Saxonvale site.

A member of the audience challenged, “How much of the turnover stays actually in Frome? Someone has to sit down and do that calculation.”

ASDA expect the extension would create the equivalent of 17-18 full-time jobs, and result in a 19% increase in turnover for the store.