Supermarket giant Sainsbury’s has come under fire for turning a Solihull village into “a war zone” – despite the fact the firm’s chief executive Justin King actually grew up there.
Sainsbury’s has infuriated residents of Dorridge after announcing that its plans to develop a new shopping centre and refurbish a GP surgery have been put on hold until at least 2014.
In the meantime the redundant Forest Court precinct in the heart of the village, which Sainsbury’s acquired five years ago, remains boarded up.
The development is the latest in a long-running saga that saw the firm obtain planning permission for the scheme in 2011, after winning residents’ support for it. But it now risks alienating the very people it hopes will be its customers due to the delay.
Sainsbury’s decision not to develop the site this year only became apparent 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.
Word spread and within a week her post had attracted 500 ‘likes’ – eliciting a response from Sainsbury’s prompting Ms Hatcher to set up a Facebook campaign.
Ms Hatcher said: “Not only is it an eyesore but it actually has a bigger impact.
"I think one of the things about Dorridge is that it is not just a typical store development – it is village regeneration.
“It includes the refurbishment of the GP surgery, a petrol station and Sainsbury’s is the landlord to a number of small independent shops who will be next door. So Sainsbury’s own something like 40-50 per cent of the whole of the centre of Dorridge.
“The other thing is that there are some bars and shops that have come into the area in anticipation of Sainsbury’s opening and the additional footfall. Whereas other environments can survive perfectly well without Sainsbury’s, Tesco or Waitrose we are totally reliant on this area being developed.”
In the meantime Ms Hatcher said the site was dragging the appearance of the village down, adding: “Dorridge is a leafy affluent area and it looks like a war zone.
"We had friends visit over Christmas who don’t visit the Midlands very often and they thought we had had riots. It is completely unacceptable.
“One might argue from a pure cold business point of view it makes no sense, but 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.”
Now the local Conservative MP has backed calls for Sainsbury’s to press on with the development.
Meriden MP Caroline Spelman believes Sainsbury’s had “a moral obligation” to develop the GP surgery on the site and said she was “just as fed up as other Dorridge residents”.
“I have written to the supermarket chain urging it to get on with the job they promised to do and seeking an urgent meeting with the chief executive,” said Ms Spelman.
“Dorridge residents reasonably expect Sainsbury’s to honour a moral obligation to provide the Dorridge Practice that formed part of their successful planning application.”
Ben Littman, regional development manager for Sainsbury’s, said it did not receive full planning permission free from legal challenge until the end of November 2012.
He said: “The continued economic downturn during the drawn-out planning process, combined with a smaller store than the one we originally planned for, has led to us having to review in detail the viability of the scheme. This review means we are unable to include construction works in our plans for the year ahead.
“We appreciate that this is not the news local people have been hoping for, but we would like to assure people that we are keeping the situation under regular review.
“We will keep the community informed as the situation develops.”