Cut-price supermarket group Lidl is fighting to open a new non-food retail store in Blackwater, on the site of Brian Gubby's garage.

When Hart Council scuppered its original plan to open a supermarket there, the company tried to sell non-food items, like pine furniture.

Even that fell foul of the council planners. So the firm appealed against planning refusal for a non-food store and on Tuesday a planning inquiry opened as the firm tried to escape from the council's tangles of red tape.

Barrister John Pugh-Smith said Pine Man, a furniture showroom, had also been opened on the London Road site. Lidl had closed this pending talks that led to the two-day inquiry. It had not sought to exploit any breach of planning control.

The barrister said the council had had the misconception that the new operation would generate more traffic than the previous Brian Gubby petrol, car showroom and convenience store operation.

In its grounds for refusal Hart had cited loss of employment, yet two years ago the same site had been identified by the council as a potential site for housing. The replacement Local Plan contemplated redevelopment of the whole site.

It had also cited the character and appearance of the site. However, no changes were proposed to the current buildings and frontage parking was already a characteristic of Blackwater.

Mr Aled Roderick, a highways planner appearing for Lidl, said Hampshire County Council no longer objected on highway grounds. Surveys of a similar site had shown that the levels of traffic would be considerably less than when the petrol station was open.

Brian Gubby told the inspector, Mr Christopher Craig, that he bought part of the site in 1970 and there had been petrol sales there since 1904. From 1985 he had operated a mini-market there.

Hart is contending that Mr Gubby's retail sales were ancillary to petrol sales and that there is no planning consent for any independent, unrestricted retail sales on any part of the site. It maintains that Blackwater is a local neighbourhood centre and not a district shopping centre with a wide catchment area.

"A change of use without substantial physical redevelopment of the site would not enhance the town centre and would be a waste of the opportunity that this prominent site offers to improve the centre of Blackwater," it declares.