SUPERMARKET chain Morrisons has agreed terms to underpin a retail development expected to create 1,000 jobs in Holmeside.
The company, which had previously remained unnamed, came out in the open today as the “store wars” saga – which has seen competing developers locked in rivalry – intensified.
But the chain’s claim that it could not go ahead if a rival store three miles away was granted planning permission, has raised eyebrows, as its own Seaburn store is the same distance from Holmeside.
As reported in the Echo, Ashall Property has revealed proposals to redevelop the Holmeside Triangle area, where previous plans from another firm ran into trouble.
Ashall said it could not continue, however, if developer Terrace Hill was granted planning permission to build a new Sainsbury’s in Riverside Road, Southwick.
Planning consultants for Terrace Hill said Wearside was losing out on £1million for each month a decision on its proposals was delayed.
The new store would create up to 500 jobs and experts say it would stop money leaking out of north Sunderland into neighbouring South Tyneside.
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But Ashall said its unnamed supermarket partner would have to pull out if the Sainsbury’s got the go ahead. This prompted speculation as to how concrete its plans were for Holmeside.
Now Morrisons has unmasked itself and reaffirmed its concerns about the Southwick Riverside Road development, on the existing Jennings car showroom site.
The company is also unhappy with plans for another food store and retail development in North Hylton Road, on a previous Jennings site. Both planning applications will go to committee this week.
Development director Andrew Cooper said: “I am able to confirm that Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc have now agreed terms with Ashall Property for a food store in their proposed development of the Holmeside Triangle site.
“We have, however, made it clear to Ashall Property that should food store proposals for the Jennings Site at Riverside Road – or indeed North Hylton Road – be given planning approval, then Holmeside will no longer be a viable opportunity for Morrisons and we will reluctantly have to withdraw our interest.”
The Echo questioned Morrisons on issue of similar distance of its Seaburn store to Holmeside, but the firm has not yet replied.
Mr Cooper’s remarks came as Terrace Hill queried Ashall’s claims were that the Holmeside development could get underway within a year.
Duncan McEwan, head of retail development, said Mecca Bingo had not agreed to sell its site – though knew it faced the possibility of a Compulsory Purchase Order.
He claimed discussions would still need to take place for Ashall to secure land at Holmeside from regional development agency One NorthEast.
He added: “I see no reason why this theoretical proposal should be allowed to stand in the way of a determination on a scheme that has been proven over a number of months to be a great asset to the Southwick area of Sunderland, and which has received overwhelming support from the public and the elected members of Sunderland City Council.”
The Ashall plans come after the collapse of a £180million scheme to create a landmark retail site at Holmeside.
Original proposals included the Spirit of Sunderland tower, which would have been the highest building in the North East.
The now-defunct regeneration agency Sunderland arc signed a deal with developer Thornfield, with work due to be complete by 2015.
But the scheme was thrown into doubt after one of the firms involved went into administration.
Sunderland Council chief executive David Smith later admitted that the scheme was “off the cards.”