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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy