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Aldi: Down to earth with a bump?

Pottering about in Herne Bay this morning, I happened upon an odd contraption in the King’s Road car park. This is the site of the future Aldi supermarket, which is described as being Phase 1 of the long-stalled regeneration plan for Herne Bay known as the “Central Development Area”.

My insatiable curiosity got the better of me, and I had a chat to one of the men peering at the machine – a soil sampler which drives hollow tubes into the ground to find out what it’s made of.

He turned out to be the recently appointed Development and Build Manager (something like that) for the Aldi construction project. He told me that this kind of building is usually built on concrete foundations (simple and quick), or is perched on top of piles driven into the ground (more expensive).

Apparently using driven piles would be more expensive than Aldi wants to pay, so he was looking into the feasibility of concrete foundations. This explains why Aldi hasn’t yet submitted a planning application. Aldi wants to make sure the building is buildable at an affordable cost before going through the time and expense of the planning process.

While I was there, they finished drilling the first of the 15 or 20 holes they were planning to make across the car park. They had gone down 5 metres before hitting a concrete slab, which he assumed was probably something to do with the old gas works that used to be on the site.

The man said that other parts of the car park may have “only” 2 metres of sloppy clay covering the required “sound ground” – there’s no telling without drilling. But as he pointed out, the deeper the holes are, the more soil has to be removed, and the more concrete has to be poured.

If it’s 5 metres all over, that would be what he described as “a very big hole” – I love jargon. And, crucially, it would be as expensive (or more so) than driven piles. Which Aldi regards as too expensive. The Build Manager told me that the outcome of the drilling would decide whether the build happens at all.

So after all these years of waiting, it’s still not certain that Phase 1 will go ahead. If the nature of the ground means that building anything the size of a supermarket is prohibitively expensive, then that will apply equally to any brand of supermarket, and any building of that scale.

I hope the Herne Bay Regeneration Team has a Plan B. They’ve had long enough to think of one, surely.

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