Supermarket giant Sainsbury's has bowed to pressure and agreed to start work earlier than planned on a new store in the village where the firm's chief executive Justin King grew up.
Dorridge residents claimed a delay in pressing ahead with the Forest Court development had turned the village into “a war zone”.
After a lengthy planning process, which culminated in Sainsbury’s getting the green light to press ahead in 2011, the retailer later announced work would not start on the boarded-up site until 2014.
But a dramatic U-turn means work is now set to get under way this year and be completed by Christmas 2014.
Concerned residents were also backed by Solihull Council and Meriden MP Caroline Spelman.
The leader of Solihull Council, Councillor Ken Meeson, said: “There is no doubt Sainsbury’s responded to pressure.
“As councillors we had a meeting with their head of planning and we reiterated that this present situation was unacceptable. Having a boarded-up centre in the village has had a bad effect on residents and on traders.”
Sainsbury’s has announced it wants to make some amendments to the scheme, which also includes a new doctors’ surgery, but said the changes would not alter the overall size of the new store. Work is already under way on a neighbouring petrol station which will open in June.
A statement released by the company said it will submit plans for the amendments this month and pledged to start within six months of them being approved.
It said: “These amendments do not seek to change the key aspects of size, location of access or the creation of a village square, which were key to the original consent.”
Justin King, Sainsbury’s chief executive, said: “We appreciate the patience and continuing support of residents and I would like to reassure the local community that the amendments will not affect the approved overall building size or the overall look and feel of the development. Changes will include the reconfiguration of the floor space, to allow for the inclusion of some non-food goods within the Sainsbury’s store, which are currently unavailable for purchase in Dorridge. We will continue to keep the community updated as we progress.”
The Sainsbury’s delay came to light earlier this year after incensed Dorridge resident Linda Hatcher posted pictures of the boarded-up Forest Court site on Sainsbury’s Facebook page, asking how long it would remain like that.
Within a week her post had attracted 500 ‘likes’ – eliciting a response from Sainsbury’s, prompting Ms Hatcher to set up a Facebook campaign page.
Speaking at the time Ms Hatcher said: “If Sainsbury’s is prepared to do that to the village the chief executive grew up in it doesn’t say a lot about Sainsbury’s.”
Mrs Spelman, who recently met with Mr King to discuss the development, said: “I welcome the news. Local people have been unhappy about 50 per cent of Dorridge’s footprint being boarded up but the announcement that the development should be completed for Christmas 2014 is encouraging.
“The potential viability of the project is affected by the permission granted to Waitrose to open a store in Knowle but, with some internal re-configuration, Sainsbury’s believe they can make the scheme work while keeping key features local people wanted.”