A new Aldi in Saffron Walden is exciting, but will it benefit the town?

A new Aldi has just opened up on the edge of Saffron Walden. It will provide competition, consumer choice, but will it pull footfall away from the town centre?

I went to the opening of the new Aldi just outside Saffron Walden. BBC Radio had asked us to come along to talk to them about its importance to the town.

When I turned up at 7:15 there was already a carnival atmosphere. The store and staff were sparkling, music was playing, TV and radio were there, and bacon baps were being given to the more than 100 people already in line. In her official capacity as Mayor, R4U’s Heather Asker was also on hand to cut the ribbon.

Listen to our interview with BBC Radio Essex

It’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement. In fact Aldi opening in Saffron Walden is exciting for the town; and I’m excited and will shop there. As residents we all want choice. We don’t have a supermarket discounter in Walden, and so it will give Tesco a run for its money. But it’s a shame it’s not actually in the town.

Out of town box stores

We and the Town Council were strongly against earlier proposals for a much larger Sainsbury on the same out-of-town site. The Planning Inspector refused the Sainsbury store because it would create an unsustainable negative impact to the economy of the town – it would reduce the footfall in the town centre by about 15%.

Risk to town-centre retailers

Whilst Sainsbury would significantly damage the town by duplicating what we already have, the Aldi store is much smaller serves a new niche. However our local independent retailers need all the business they can get and so we weren’t all that happy about the prospect of an out-of-town Aldi either. It would have been great inside the town, but outside, it is less cut-and-dry.

Watch BBC News segment from the store opening

The question is will the overall impact be negative for our town centre retailers? It’s difficult to tell. Aldi’s own predictions are that it will pull nearly 8% of existing shoppers away from the town centre. However will Aldi attract enough new people from the villages to come to Saffron Walden to shop in the town itself?

Bringing in new shoppers

Supermarkets are literally the bread-and-butter of retail. They bring in people from surrounding areas. Until now people had to go 15 miles to Haverhill and Bishops Stortford for a discounter. Those living in Ashdon, Hadstock, Radwinter, Debden, Wimbish, Newport and Chesterford can now come to Walden instead. And with a new expanded town-centre Waitrose opening in a few weeks, maybe they’ll combine an Aldi visit with a trip to the town centre, a local café and an independent retailer or two.

We are hopeful that this will be the case and are excited to have Aldi as a new choice. Let’s hope Aldi brings more visitors to Saffron Walden.

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