Tug-of-war between Thwaites and council bosses over plan for Sainsbury's in Blackburn (From Lancashire Telegraph)
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Tug-of-war between Thwaites and council bosses over plan for Sainsbury's in Blackburn
Thwaites and Blackburn with Darwen Council are locked in a tug-of-war over a major new town centre supermarket plan – with the future of a car park the key sticking point.
Both the brewery giant and the council want the supermarket development on their land, but weeks of behind-the-scenes talks have led to a stand-off, the Lancashire Telegraph can today reveal.
At the centre of the increasing row is Starkie Street car park, in the middle of the brewery site, where the council will not give up the last 70 years of a 99-year-lease.
The local authority has been in talks for years with Sainsbury’s and Tesco about developing a large store on the old market site, next to the Mall shopping centre.
Last year Thwaites announced that not only were they closing the Star Brewery, but had agreed to sell it to Sainsbury’s for a giant store, pending planning permission.
And council bosses said they were shocked when, despite intensive negotiations, the company’s annual report last week confirmed its determination to go ahead, despite the council’s strong objections.
Political leaders are now determined to block further moves by Thwaites as the council has 70 years left on a 99-year-long lease on the Starkie Street car park in the middle of the brewery site.
They are refusing to give it up unless a deal on the regeneration of both sites is agreed with the brewery.
Without the land occupied by the 128-space car park, the site (valued at between £12million and £15 million) is useless for a supermarket development and would destroy the economics of the Thwaites plans to close the brewery, sell the site, and build a new plant in, or near, Blackburn.
Leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council Kate Hollern and regeneration boss Dave Harling said the council would not give up the lease without a plan that developed at least part of the old market as a super-store, and an assurance that Thwaites’ new brewery would be in, or near, the borough.
Thwaites chief executive Rick Bailey confirmed that the council did have a lease with 70 years left to run on Starkie Street car park, admitting: “We cannot go ahead without their agreement.”
Tomorrow Blackburn MP Jack Straw will meet Mr Bailey to try to broker a deal to end the supermaket stand-off between two of the town’s biggest employers.
While Thwaites could contest the authority refusing planning permission for a Sainsbury’s store with a reasonable chance of winning within their four- year timetable, legally forcing the council to give up the lease would be lengthy, very expen-sive, and virtually impossible.
Coun Hollern said: “We are concerned about this commer-cial decision of Thwaites.
“We have a long lease of Starkie Street car park which has 70 years left to run.
“If we can agree a comprehensive joint plan to redevelop the old market and brewery sites, including a supermaket, with Thwaites, the council relinquishing the remainder of the lease is an option.
“If we cannot agree that approach, then we would have to give consideration to other options which might include not giving up the lease.
“We are also keen to see Thwaites brewing in, or near, the borough.
“I do not want to hold anyone over a barrel, but we want to see a joint development which is of benefit to the regeneration of the whole of Blackburn town centre.
"I think that Thwaites were naive and unwise to announce the brewery closure and Sainsbury’s deal without first consulting the council about planning issues and the lease on the car park.”
Coun Harling said: “Why should the council relinquish the remaining 70 years of the Starkie Street lease unless we can agree with Thwaites a plan that assists the regeneration of the town centre in which we have already invested millions of pounds in schemes like The Mall?
“I think Thwaites were unwise not to consult us before they announced this scheme on both planning issues and the lease.”
Mr Straw said: “I would like to see Thwaites stay brewing in Blackburn, preferably in the town centre.
“I do not think name-calling will help anyone.”
Mr Bailey said: ”We are currently working closely together in partnership with Sainsbury’s and Blackburn with Darwen Council to develop a solution for the future development of the Thwaites site and the old market site that delivers the very best outcome for the people of Blackburn, the town centre, Sainsbury’s and Thwaites, a leading local employer and considerable contributor to the local economy.”
Sainsbury’s regional development executive Jo Hawley said: “Sainsbury’s is very keen to bring a new foodstore to Blackburn town centre and our agreement with Thwaites is designed to do just that.
“We have had some initial discussions with the council and we are in the process of setting up a further meeting.”