Developer tells councillors Sainsbury's 'clearly in breach of contract' after pulling the plug on Whittlesey store

PUBLISHED: 23:01 19 March 2016 | UPDATED: 23:01 19 March 2016

Developer Bruce Smith who is planning legal action against Sainsbury's for breach of contract.  Picture: Steve Williams.

Developer Bruce Smith who is planning legal action against Sainsbury's for breach of contract. Picture: Steve Williams.

Archant

Developer Bruce Smith told Whittlesey Town Council he is to sue Sainsbury's for breach of contract - and promised an independent inquiry into 'supermarketgate' after Fenland Council rejected the idea.

Mr Smith also insisted he would continue the fight to bring a supermarket to the town.

“I promised that I would deliver this scheme to Whittlesey and that is what I will do,” he said.

“I am disappointed Stephen Barclay MP did not show the support for Whittlesey that he demonstrated for the Chatteris out of town food store.”

Mr Smith told the March meeting of the council that he had engaged “one of the top five leading QCs” to pursue his claim against the company.

“I have never been in a contractual position to force Sainsbury’s to build a store,” he said.

“My contract with Sainsbury’s was to buy the land and jointly deliver the infrastructure and country park.

“I am presently pursuing Sainsbury’s for completion of my contract

“I have one of the top five leading planning QCs opinions Timothy Straker that Sainsbury’s are clearly in breach of my contract.

“I have this opinion reinforced by a senior planning consultant who specialises in commercial planning and my lawyer.”

Mr Smith, whose company Whitacre fought to secure permission for the Eastrea Road site, said his solicitors Clarke Wilmot “are of the same opinion and have served notice on Sainsbury’s to complete; they had 28 days from February 19, 2016”.

He said: “So that is where we are with Sainsbury’s; however the idea that I conceived was not that of Sainsbury’s, they were the catalyst that could bring the project forward; the idea was mine.

“Accepting that Sainsbury’s have gone and parking the legal battle to one side, this does not mean that the project dies, the planning permission belongs to the land, there is nothing to stop another retailer coming forward if Sainsbury’s decides not want to honour their obligations.

“Within the contract I have step in rights to provide the infrastructure should Sainsbury’s fail to do so, this will be at their cost.

“We still have much interest in the business park which will generate further income.

“Yes Sainsbury’s may have gone, but the land is still there, the planning permission is still there, Sainsbury’s absence does not mean the end.”

He said: “I brought to this town a project that most towns the size of Whittlesey would die for and five years later despite the support of many good people it has not happened. It begs the question why?

“My understanding is that Whittlesey Town Council wanted an inquiry and approached Fenland District Council.

“Following this refusal I have decided to finance an independent inquiry and have already started the process.”

He added: “As you can appreciate the scheme has been disrupted. I am not driven by financial gain but by achievement and I would like to add that the project I started for the parish of Whittlesey is not dead.”

He also said that he and the Whitwell brothers (they own the site in Eastrea Road planned for the store) were watching with interest the developments at Must Farm,

“I understand that this archaeological discovery has been designated as a national treasure, the Bronze Age equivalent of Pompeii,” he said.

“We believe as I am sure you do that the finds made in Whittlesey must stay in Whittlesey. We could easily accommodate a heritage centre/museum on the country park or on the business park to create a visitors complex which will certainly generate a wealth of tourism.

“We are prepared to gift and donate the land needed within the scheme to the parish of Whittlesey in order to make sure Must Farm artefacts stay in Whittlesey for future generations.

“This is an opportunity to put Whittlesey on the map and this opportunity must not be lost.”

After the meeting Mr Smith said that a letter written to Fenland Council by Whittlesey councillor Martin Curtis had called for an independent inquiry into the supermarket fiasco. This was rejected.

It was also revealed that town councillor David Mason, a former mayor, had written to the chief executive of Sainsbury’s, over the company’s decision to pull out.

He wrote: “The town of Whittlesey has always viewed Sainsbury’s as an honourable and reputable company and given them unstinted support.

“It is therefore disappointing to be given the news that matters will not be proceeding as expected.”

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