Sainsbury's Middlehaven 'ghost store' plan rejected
Supermarket giant Sainsbury's plan to fill a £200,000 a month ghost store has been rejected by councillors amid concerns it would be "catastrophic" for a nearby town centre.
The firm built an 80,000 sq ft superstore in Middlesbrough's Middlehaven area but dropped plans to move into it in 2015.
It applied to divide it into separate units to be filled by other businesses.
Middlesbrough Council fears a negative impact on town centre investment.
The store was constructed after the chain announced its intention to relocate from its Wilson Street branch - saying it was "unable to compete effectively with other large stores in the area".
The new application, unanimously rejected on Friday by the authority's planning and development committee, would have seen the Middlehaven building occupied by B&M, Argos, Iceland and a gym, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.
Head of planning Paul Clarke said the council's emerging local plan required decisions which "seek to protect the viability and vitality of the town centre".
"When permission was initially granted in 2015 the town centre was in a far healthier situation than it is now," he added.
Richard Wilson, of Dodds and Brown, representing the town centre's shopping centres, said the proposal to effectively change the development into an out-of-town retail park would be "catastrophic".
He added the town centre was more vulnerable than others in the UK as it has an over-reliance on retail.
House of Fraser recently signed a single-year, rent-free deal, while Marks & Spencer has a three-year commitment and Debenhams is looking to close a number of stores nationwide.
Bruno Moore, head of town centre planning at Sainsbury's, estimated the scheme would have created 170 retail jobs.
He said: "Sainsbury's is paying £200,000 a month to have that building sat there unoccupied.
"There is a very, very strong financial imperative to do something about the store."