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SWALE BACKED IN SUPERMARKET FIGHT

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Swale BC and the German low-cost supermarket chain Aldi have won the high court go-ahead to develop a store in Shee...
Swale BC and the German low-cost supermarket chain Aldi have won the high court go-ahead to develop a store in Sheerness, as a leading judge branded the efforts of rival Lidl to block the move as a possible 'spoiling tactic'.
Mr Justice Morison was giving reasons for his ruling on 13 February backing the council's decision to accept an offer for the long lease of a site despite Lidl's claim that it had made a higher bid.
He also lifted an injunction which had put the Aldi development on legal ice until now. The case centred on Lidl's claim that the decision to accept the Aldi bid - which was lower than Lidl had offered for a substantially similar site - breached local government rules requiring the environment secretary to give permission before such an offer could be accepted.
The council decided to exchange contracts with Aldi on 15 August last year for£650,000 plus an annual rent which, in effect, makes the offer worth between£800,000 to£890,000. Lidl claimed it had bid£950,000.
However, explaining his decision and lifting the injunction which had prevented the Aldi development from moving forward, the judge said that the highest offer was not always the best because 'a council is entitled to conclude that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush'.
While Aldi had been developing its proposals for a considerable time, had acquired extra land for the development and were on the point of having its full planning application considered, Lidl on the other hand had made a bid without any supporting material, he said.
He said: 'I would have thought it obvious that any council which was prepared to accept Aldi's offer was obtaining the best consideration reasonably obtainable since the Aldi bid had been carefully prepared, was for a landholding which it had assembled and was credible.
'Lidl had done nothing other than make a series of offers whose conditions changed as flaws were pointed out. I am satisfied that the council have not acted unlawfully; rather, they have, I think, behaved entirely properly.'
Mr Justice Morrison had issued a stern rebuke to Lidl's counsel Hugh Mercer when he gave his judgment earlier this month, saying: 'I do not think that there is any merit in your case.'
On Friday he expanded his criticism of Lidl's legal moves, refusing the chain leave to appeal to the court of appeal, and ordering it to pay the council's£28,000 costs. However, he rejected a bid by Aldi to have its costs for the case paid by Lidl.
He said that Lidl was to be criticised for failing to inform the court when it obtained an injunction blocking the Aldi store that it was developing its own Sheerness site on Station Road. The court was told that a decision on planning permission for that scheme is imminent.
Had the issue been raised, he said 'it would or might have emerged that Lidl's bid was no more than a spoiling tactic designed to hold up the Aldi development whilst pursuing its own commercial interests at its preferred site'.
Strand News Service
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