Sainsbury's come clean and admit they have pulled the plug - for good -on a new store at Whittlesey

PUBLISHED: 16:17 11 January 2016 | UPDATED: 16:18 11 January 2016

Whittlesey 'supermarket-gate'

Whittlesey 'supermarket-gate'

Archant

Sainsbury's pulled the plug today on their proposed Whittlesey store - paving the way for a possible multi million legal battle.

Cambs Times meeting with Whittlesey residents concerning Supermarket-Gate. Robert Oxley (Sainsbury's) and (left) John Elworthy, editorCambs Times meeting with Whittlesey residents concerning Supermarket-Gate. Robert Oxley (Sainsbury's) and (left) John Elworthy, editor

The supermarket giant now face a legal tussle with March based developer Bruce Smith who successfully pioneered the Eastrea Road site that would have housed business units and a country park.

However in a conference call from David Mill, head of property communications and Chris Templeman, head of property acquisitions, the company confirmed the Whittlesey store was no longer viable.

Mr Templeman said: “We have been carrying out a viability study and we have now gone through that piece of work.

“I can inform you we will not be progressing with plans for a new supermarket at Whittlesey.”

Cambs Times meeting with Whittlesey residents concerning Supermarket-Gate.Cambs Times meeting with Whittlesey residents concerning Supermarket-Gate.

After a long protracted battle – that included a judicial review when a rival scheme championed by Tesco was in the frame- Sainsbury’s twice emerged victorious.

In 2015 it finally won consent but then immediately re-applied with various changes including access and a request to use the store as a home delivery base through the night.

Many felt these were superficial objections intent on stalling their commitment – a view likely now to be shared by those who had supported their bid throughout. Ironically Fenland Council approved their amended application with just hours to spare before contractual arrangements with Mr Smith and the land owners expired.

Sainsbury’s will now face having to settle their contractual arrangements privately or face a court battle.

Flashback to the night in Whittlesey when residents overwhelmingly backed Sainsbury's. Today the store dropped them.Flashback to the night in Whittlesey when residents overwhelmingly backed Sainsbury's. Today the store dropped them.

Mr Mills said he wanted to inform Whittlesey people “at the earliest opportunity of this difficult decision”.

Mr Templeman said the context for them were the changes taking place in the grocery market that he described as “fundamental shifts”.

He said there would be greater focus with their on line offering but there was no prospect of a store being built in the town.

The company had looked at many factors including long term housing growth in the town but the conclusion remained “it is still unviable in the long term.”

Mr Mills described it as a “really tough decision”. He praised people locally for their support for Sainsbury’s.

“Clearly this support was important to us and this has made the decision even more difficult,” he said.

A later statement issued by the store said: “We have not taken this decision lightly and are very disappointed we are not able to open a new store in Whittlesey

“Since the proposals were first announced, shopping patterns have changed considerably and following a review, the scheme is no longer viable for us.

“We have been extremely grateful for the strong level of local support for the scheme and recognise that this news will be very disappointing to many people.

“In the meantime we will continue to focus support on our existing stores that are extremely popular with our customers.”

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