Sainsbury's wants to say 'bye bye' to its Greenwich supermarket, famously home of the Teletubbies. Can it be saved?

Sainsbury’s wants to demolish it, but campaigners are battling to save the eco-friendly store

There’s something redolent of the Tubbytronic Superdome – home of the Teletubbies – about the Sainsbury’s seemingly growing out of the ground at North Greenwich in London. And the sometimes eccentric rationale behind knocking down this much-lauded building after only 15 years looks like it might also have emanated from the fantastical world of Teletubbyland.

The saga illuminates the bizarre vagaries of the planning process, and of property speculation and retailing – two industries in which Britain has become startlingly adept. Sainsbury’s wants a bigger store, but argues that it can’t extend this one, so it will open up a supermarket three times as large, in nearby Charlton. “At the time it was built, the store incorporated a number of emerging sustainable building techniques, which we were proud to pioneer,” Sainsbury’s says. “We have now outgrown the building, which cannot be enlarged or easily reused, and those technologies have evolved significantly.” Property developers LXB have worked with Ikea to plan a replacement store on the site – so now it’s curtains for the innovative Sainsbury’s.

The building was opened with a flourish in 1999 by TV chef Jamie Oliver and nominated for the Stirling Prize in 2000, the highest accolade in European architecture. Its oak panels and grass roof give it a traditional, warm feeling; while a slew of technological trickery makes it extremely eco-friendly. As supermarkets go, it’s a pleasant place to shop. The Independent visited incognito on Tuesday to sidestep the company’s PRs. The building is flooded with natural light and the space seems to promote a friendly atmosphere – with smiling staff and customers evident.

There was no Tubby Toast or Tubby Tustard in sight, so we bought a pint of milk from a cheery checkout girl called Angela. The bus stops outside the door, and it’s all rather civilised.

The store was almost empty. The building is accessible, has a huge range of goods, no queues and plenty of room, so it’s not immediately apparent why Sainsbury’s suddenly consider it obsolete.

Paul Hinkin designed the building when he worked at Chetwoods Architects in the 1990s.

“If this pioneering eco-building is destroyed, it will do lasting damage to the cause of sustainable development throughout the UK. Sainsbury’s Greenwich totally revolutionised the design of the supermarket, [it was] one of the most democratic buildings. For it to be destroyed after less than 15 years would be an act of vandalism,” he said. “It will condone senseless waste within the whole retail property and development sector.”

Demolishing any building a mere 15 years into its life – and one that seems to both work pretty well and be very green – is uncommon.

Earlier this month, Ikea managed to persuade Greenwich Council of the merits of its replacement scheme, and now has planning permission to knock down the Sainsbury’s and build its own store.

Ikea claims on its website that: “Sustainable development is at the heart of our business. The proposed store on Greenwich Peninsula would be constructed using materials and methods which help to minimise its carbon footprint and will provide a significant proportion of its energy needs from on-site sources.”

In the opposite corner are the Charlton Society, the Westcombe Society and Greenwich Conservation Group, who raised concerns with the council. Meanwhile, some locals worry that Ikea may bring about an increase in traffic – the site is next to the busy Blackwall Tunnel approach road and near a possible southern portal of the proposed Silvertown Tunnel under the Thames.

The Twentieth Century Society, which campaigns for modern buildings, is effusive about the current Sainsbury’s. “This is the most innovative retail building in England,” says Henrietta Billings, senior conservation adviser at the charity.

“This multi-award-winning building is an outstanding example of innovative retail design, underwritten by ecological and sustainability principles. All now depends on the listing application. English Heritage are continuing their assessment of the building as an urgent priority case. We strongly believe it should be listed.”

It would be the youngest building to be listed in Britain. But considering that supermarkets are usually where design goes to die, some now believe that it’s worth recognising one that – as well as being green – doesn’t look like either a cut-price aircraft hangar or a gigantic barn.

Meanwhile, for Sainsbury’s, demolition of one of its best stores appears a puzzling move. The company has a history of pioneering both more environmentally-friendly stores (such as this one) and more architecturally ambitious buildings than their rivals. Sainsbury’s built a supermarket in Camden, North London, in 1988, designed by Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, who also built the Eden Project in Cornwall.

In Greenwich, barring an unlikely last-minute listing, locals will soon be saying “Bye bye” to their current Teletubby supermarket and “Eh-oh” to an Ikea.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Multi Trade Operative

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An established, family owned de...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exciting position has risen for a Customer ...

Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

Recruitment Genius: Fundraising Manager / Income Generation Coach

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A smart software company locate...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project