‘Food wars’ break out at city centre

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THE city’s once prestigious Food Centre is in crisis with Waitrose quitting and Sainsbury’s effectively holding thecentre:mk management to ransom, the Citizen can reveal.

The Waitrose move, announced two years after Sainsbury’s packed its bags for The Hub development half a mile away, will leave the food centre up to 80 per cent unoccupied.

Already many shoppers are anticipating other popular supermarkets such as Morrisons, Adsa or Tesco will jump into the empty units.

But this week the Citizen can exclusively reveal that will NOT fully happen – because it is claimed Sainsbury’s bosses refuse to allow it.

Customers are unaware the supermarket giant still holds at least 10 years of the lease on its vacated unit at the Food Centre.

And, even though this unit is thought to cost them £1 million a year in rent and service charges, they are refusing to relinquish it, it is alleged.

The reason, claim sources, is that Sainsbury’s does not want any competitors to move in for fear they would affect its trade at The Hub.

It is understood the store is striving to split its old unit into three smaller shops, which it would then sub-let to non-competing retailers.

This week thecentre:mk management admitted they were powerless to rectify the problem.

“We would like to have other supermarkets in the Food Centre as we believe our shoppers should be given as much choice as possible. But it is out of our control,” said head of marketing Melanie Beck, who could not comment on the financial terms of Sainsbury’s lease.

Sources say Morrisons is particularly keen to open up in the Sainsbury’s unit.

Meanwhile centre bosses are still negotiating with Waitrose, who plan to move to a new local centre at nearby Oakgrove when their lease expires next Spring.

They are hoping Waitrose will agree to keep a presence in the Food Centre by leasing a smaller unit as a satellite store.

It is also hoped the proposed 90,000 sq ft Primark store at Secklow Gate will consolidate the entire centre and encourage more visitors to the Food Centre when a solution to the Sainsbury’s lease is found.

A Sainsbury’s spokesman said: “Since relocating to our new store we have been actively pursuing ways to relinquish the lease on our existing unit, however there are a number of challenges with our landlords which need to be resolved before we can achieve this.”