HOPES for a discount supermarket chain to take over a former DIY store that has stood empty for 18 months could be fading.

It has been rumoured Aldi has pulled out of a deal that would have seen it open a new store at the Focus site, in Rushbottom Lane, Benfleet, which closed in June 2011.

The chain may invest in its new Pitsea store instead to tie in with the planned regeneration project in the town, it has been claimed.

As part of the £30million masterplan a new Aldi branch will be built on the site of the former Co-op and part of the current Pitsea Market, replacing the existing Aldi, in Rectory Park Drive.

Focus closed its doors after the nationwide DIY firm went into administration, resulting in 23 job losses at the Benfleet branch.

Although Aldi has not confirmed its intentions yet, traders and councillors have hinted at their disappointment if it turns out to be true.

Sailesh Patel, owner of Cross Pharmacy, in London Road, said: “We need something there to draw the people in, it’s disappointing to hear from a business point of view.

“It would be nice to have someone in there as it’s been empty for some time now so I would be concerned if it’s true, but without confirming whether they have pulled out or not we wouldn’t be able to comment.”

Norman Smith, Castle Point Council’s cabinet member for economic regeneration, said the council had helped to facilitate negotiations between the freeholder and Aldi, but he had not heard the supermarket was definitely going to move into Rushbottom Lane.

He added: “I would be delighted to see a store go there, it would help to regenerate that whole area.

“I would like to see something back there now, jobs would be created plus a store would come back into use so I’m disappointed the potential user has to pull away if that the case, but I’ve not had confirmation of that myself.”

A spokeswoman for Aldi could not confirm or deny the claims.