Politicians, commercial agents and shoppers have united to brand a decision by Sainsbury’s to scrap a flagship North-East store — just days away from opening — as a “disgrace”.
The supermarket giant’s latest store at Middlesbrough, built as the centrepiece of the multi-million pound Middlehaven Gateway scheme, only needs its final fitting out and stocking to open its doors. Even the car park is laid out and the trolley shelters erected.
But now Sainsbury’s, which earlier this year amended its application for the 80,000 sq ft store to allow the outlet to be split into two units, has pulled out claiming the project is “no longer viable”.
A spokesman for the retailer said: “We have not taken this decision lightly and are very disappointed we are not able to open a new shop in Middlesbrough. Since the proposals were first announced, shopping patterns have changed considerably and following a review, the scheme is no longer viable for us.”
She added that Sainsbury’s would market to building to other interested food chains, but would not comment on claims that Tesco and budget food retailers Aldi and Lidl had already opened negotiations to take over the site.
Construction of the 16-acre Gateway Middlehaven Retail Park project started early last year. Since then the £35m scheme has attracted a Six Medals Marston’s pub and drive-through Costa Coffee and KFC. A nine-pump petrol filling station is also set to go-ahead.
Middlesbrough Council declined to comment on the announcement, but one senior council member said: “This decision shows a shocking disregard by Sainsbury’s toward Middlehaven and the promises it made.” Preferring to remain anonymous until the issue is discussed by the full council, he claimed he had already received “scores of angry” complaints from would-be shoppers.
“Sainsbury’s decision to pull out at the last minute is bound to send a mixed message, both to potential Middlesbrough developers and to its own shareholders,” commented Teesside commercial surveyor, Steven Kalinowsky.
“This was to have been a landmark store pulling in millions of shoppers to Middlehaven Retail Park,” he added. “If one of the ‘big four’ supermarkets doesn’t think it is going to work what are other investors and developers going to get from that?”
Twenty years ago a bid was made to secure consent for an Asda store at the brownfield site Middlehaven site. It failed when the then Environment Secretary, John Prescott, refused planning permission.
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