The Hunts Post is leading the calls for Sainsbury’s to publicly commit to building its new Huntingdon supermarket.
When Edison Bell Way was opened in April, it was seen as paving the way for the Huntingdon West and Chequers Court development to begin, providing a boost for businesses and a better shopping experience.
But since the road’s grand opening, the only movement has been from the traffic, with Sainbury’s unwilling to publicly commit to building the new supermarket while renovating its current store just off the ring road.
The situation has fuelled rumours that Sainsbury’s has scrapped plans for the superstore and a row of shops between the new road and St John’s Street.
Years of planning and millions of pounds of public money has been put into the Huntingdon West development to extend the town centre, as well as reinvigorating Chequers Court with retail and restaurant units.
A spokesman for the supermarket chain said it was undertaking ‘pre-commencement technical discussions’ before it can be added to its works programme – a situation that has not changed for months.
Planning permission is in place, but there is no start date in the diary, and – with other supermarket chains scaling back their capital projects – there is growing concern Huntingdon is going to be stuck with a large brownfield site.
And this is why we have joined business and council leaders to call for Sainsbury’s to reveal its plans.
Jason Ablewhite, executive leader of Huntingdonshire District Council, told The Hunts Post: “We are certainly behind calling for Sainsbury’s to commit. We are having meetings with Sainsbury’s to push this agenda forward.
“I agree that these are extremely difficult times because the national scene is challenging for supermarkets as people are changing where they shop.
“All supermarkets are re-evaluating their estates – even Morrisons said it wanted to build its St Ives store by Christmas but it hasn’t started. However, the economic case for Sainsbury’s to open a superstore in Huntingdon is still the same. The council has committed a lot of money into the project, the other partner Churchmanor is getting on with it, so we would call on Sainsbury’s to fulfil its promises.
“Waitrose, which was meant to have moved into a building overlooking the [Sainsbury’s] car park, has re-evaluated its estate and is no longer moving, so the unit has been split in three – two are being taken by national chains, one by a well-known high-end supermarket.”
John Bridge, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, added his concerns.
He said: “We feel it’s very important that having developed and built the road, we get what we were expecting, which was a new supermarket. It is an essential feature of the Huntingdon development and key to the town’s economy,” he said.
“We have seen clearly the challenging situation for supermarkets. We realise a lot of them are doing a review of their future developments, putting many in a state of limbo, for example the Tesco store at Chatteris, which now built is being mothballed.
“The key thing is we want complete transparency in relation to the new supermarket. It is important going forward for Sainsbury’s to let us know its intentions, whether it is still planning on the building or if not, why they have taken that decision.
“I know people who have spoken to Sainsbury’s and they haven’t got an answer regarding what their intentions are going to be.”
“We are in a difficult situation where nobody really knows what is happening.
“Supermarkets play a very important role in customers’ requirements and the choices people seek. Most people like me, and I’m a long time Huntingdonian, were looking forward to the new Sainsbury’s store. It is seen as a positive move for Huntingdon.”
A spokesman for Sainsbury’s spokesman said: “We are currently undertaking detailed technical work in relation to the pre-commencement planning conditions linked with our planning permission for a new store and the wider regeneration plans for the town centre. Given the complex nature of the plans, this will take time and needs to be completed before construction can commence. We will keep the community updated on progress and before any work begins on site.
“Wherever possible we are always looking to improve our existing stores to ensure that they meet customer expectations. Any future improvements at our current town centre store would not preclude developing the new store.”
Elsewhere along Edison Bell Way, Tesco’s development arm Spen Hill has put its land, which has planning permission for homes, a drive-through restaurant, hotel and pub and care home, up for sale.