'They screwed up the centre of Dorridge': Sainsbury’s boss Justin King spends £10m and home town pays for it

In the ‘space race’ to buy up land, a  retail giant has delayed building a store while several shops remain closed

Retail Correspondent

Justin King, the charismatic chief executive of Sainsbury’s, has fought a series of bitter battles with his rivals during his decade at the top of one of the country’s biggest supermarket chains. But his determination to squeeze out the competition has had a ruinous effect in an unlikely place – his home town.

Land-grabbing – or the “space race” as supermarkets prefer to call it – saw big chunks of Britain’s high streets snapped up before the recession hit. Many of those sites remained derelict through the downturn as the retailers re-assessed their building plans.

The most sensitive of all for Mr King is a site in Dorridge, just outside Birmingham, where he was raised and still owns a house nearby. Five years ago Sainsbury’s spent £10m buying up a sizeable portion of Dorridge – but now the shops are all boarded up.

Ian Spencer, chairman of the Dorridge residents’ association explains: “Sainsbury’s bought 50 per cent of the shopping sites in the town in 2008, at the height of the boom. But when the recession hit they had to reassess their options.”

Two years later, in 2010, Sainsbury’s submitted an application for a large store but it was rejected, with councillors on the planning committee convinced it was too big for such a small town. Residents were angry that they had not been consulted and encouraged the company to listen to their concerns.

The following year a new, smaller proposal was put forward following a series of town hall meetings. This was approved – but then Mr King and his team decided it was not economically viable. He wrote at the time: “The continuing uncertainty means that I’m sorry to have to tell you that our store in Dorridge has not been included in our development plans for the year ahead.”

The community reacted with anger. Mr Spencer says: “The bosses in London got a spreadsheet of possible projects that they felt would have the best return. Dorridge wasn’t in their top bracket – but that’s a very corporate view to take. They clearly didn’t think about the impact on the community. We told them they had screwed up the centre of the whole village.”

Dorridge’s Conservative MP Caroline Spelman says: “It was not looking pretty at the shopping centre with all the hoardings up. But I met with Justin King, who explained to me that the hoardings were just temporary and that they did intend to start work.

“They could have been a bit clearer over the timeline of the project and explained each process, but they have now said work will start soon and appear to have the interests of the town at heart.”

Five years on, Sainsbury’s insists that work will start by the end of the year – although it  has only appointed contractors in last few days – and no doubt Mr King will be the first through the doors when the store opens in 2014.

Mr Spencer is still not convinced. “We’ve been waiting so long now that for most of the town it is a case of we’ll believe it when we see it,” he says.

Local blogs have reported every minute movement with the project, with residents keen to see their town centre restored from a derelict wasteland to a shopping precinct – even if it is dominated by a Sainsbury’s.

And Dorridge is not an isolated case. Residents in Linwood, Scotland, have been waiting several years for Tesco to build them a supermarket, after the company bought up much of the town centre. But they feared the worst when last month Tesco announced its first profit fall in 20 years.

Even now the site remains empty, although Tesco claims it is still committed to building – at some point in the future. This despite chief executive Philip Clarke calling an end to the space race when he recently wrote down £804m on Tesco’s UK property portfolio.

Sainsbury’s rejects the suggestion that it has been involved in land grabbing and blamed the planning laws for the delays in Dorridge.

A spokesman added: “Work on our fantastic new Dorridge store will begin shortly and we expect to open next autumn. The process has taken longer than we would have liked but we’re looking forward to offering a range of products currently unavailable in the town.”

The residents, who have been well aware of the lack of products for years, are waiting with anticipation.

* This article has been corrected to make clear that Sainsbury’s Justin King does not have a house in Dorridge itself; it is 20 miles away.  An erroneous reference to his aunt living in the town has been removed.  Contractors for Sainsbury’s new store have recently been appointed – the report originally said no appointment had yet been made.  Updated 28 November 2013

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before