'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?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific