Supermarket giant Asda last night revealed they are set to expand the number of stores across Northern Ireland and create more jobs, despite facing “frustrating” planning legislation.
The company’s chief executive Andy Bond revealed the plans during a visit to the province and also promised struggling consumers they would continue to deliver competitive prices through tough economic times.
According to the Asda income tracker the average UK family had around 9% less disposable income to spend on essentials.
However in Northern Ireland this regional figure jumped to around 15% in the last quarter.
Mr Bond said it “demonstrates the shocking reality” of the financial pressures families in the province are facing.
“With Christmas looming, family budgets will be stretched and it is our job to help them to make ends meet with long term price cuts,” he said.
Asda have now 14 stores across the province, including a home shopping store, since opening in 2005.
The arrival of the store also created more competitive fuel rates amongst other supermarkets.
Belfast Telegraph’s Pricewatch campaign previously exposed geographical price variations of up to 5p per litre for diesel and petrol depending on where you chose to fill up.
However Asda has a national pricing policy for fuel which keeps rates uniformed in all their stores across the UK.
“Prices are currently 106.9 on unleaded and 118.9 on diesel whether you live in Bolton or Ballyclare,” he said.
However Mr Bond, who was at the Ballyclare store, also revealed that planning applications for new stores at Antrim’s Junction One and Larne have been submitted.
“We are also planning to re-site our Belfast Shore Road store, which will see Belfast customers benefiting from Asda’s fuel prices.”
Asda employs 3,200 people across the province but an additional 80 jobs will be created through the introduction of its Home Shopping service, beginning in Ballyclare this month.
And Mr Bond added that locating a site for a store in Londonderry “was a high priority”.
However he said that the planning process in Northern Ireland had prevented quicker development of stores.
Getting planning permission for a store in Antrim’s Junction One Retail was “like pulling teeth”, he said.
“It was a frustrating experience, we would support some change in the planning system.”
Mr Bond said the stores, despite the economic climate, have attracted customers from across the province and the Republic.
“Our Strabane and Enniskillen stores are now seeing up to 40% of weekly takings in euros, a jump of 12% since stores first opened,” he added.