Sainsbury’s hit by ‘legal action’ over axed store

The Whittlesey Country Park  team members  -   Martin Whitwell (chairman), Julie Shortland (secretary  with the logo EMN-140209-211846009
The Whittlesey Country Park team members - Martin Whitwell (chairman), Julie Shortland (secretary with the logo EMN-140209-211846009
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A developer says he is taking legal action against Sainsbury’s for pulling out of a deal to build a landmark store in Whittlesey.

Bruce Smith has promised he will do everything he can to secure a first supermarket for the town after the retail giant said changing shopping patterns had caused a re-think on proposals which would also have created a 54-acre country park and health centre.

The fall-out from the Sainsbury’s decision has also seen Councillor Martin Curtis, of Whittlesey Town Council, call for a review into how Fenland District Council handled the supermarket affair which has run for years.

Sainsbury’s said it was unaware of any legal action taken by Mr Smith. A spokesperson said: “Our decision not to build a new store was based on changes in the grocery market and the way people shop.

“We will continue to focus support on our existing stores across the area which are extremely popular with our customers.”

Mr Smith, of Whitacre Management Ltd, who has passionately been pushing for the proposals to come to fruition, would not say any more on the proposed legal action he was taking

But he added: “The people of Whittlesey have given fabulous support for this whole scheme and I will strive to deliver this one way or the other.”

The council’s decision to first award planning permission to Sainsbury’s was subject to a judicial review by Harrier Developments, which had previously sought to develop a Tesco store in Whittlesey. But in 2014 the High Court sided with the local authority.

And last June, Sainsbury’s was granted permission to build its store at Lattersley Fields, off Eastrea Road, which appeared to have brought an end to the long-running saga.

Cllr Curtis said: “There’s a lot of concern at how the council has handled this and the factors around that.

“Whittlesey residents are telling me they want to know why they are where they are. There’s also a lot of concern about the quality of some of the decision making as well.

“There has to be lessons learned. And how do we improve planning in Fenland?”

Cllr Curtis believes bringing in someone from outside the authority to give a judgement will help the council and save it money in the future.

He added: “I do not think Sainsbury’s when they bought into this scheme could have predicted the amount of time it would take.

“Businesses will always make economic decisions, but I have also heard concerns about the time it took for the Sainsbury’s team to get a meeting in the diary. The longer a delay is the more uncertainty.”

A council spokesman said: “There is no need or justification for another investigation that would incur the council significant costs in what are extremely challenging financial times.

“A full, independent investigation of Sainsbury’s application and the decision-making process has already effectively been done by the courts. They found that the council had followed an appropriate, open and transparent process and that taxpayers’ money was not put at risk. The council’s approach was later endorsed by a judicial review, which dismissed the objector’s claim as being totally without merit.

“A subsequent application by Sainsbury was determined within the appropriate deadlines. They have made it clear that their decision not to go ahead with the supermarket was taken on the grounds that it was unviable in the long term.”