A multi-million pound transformation of shopping facilities in a North East market town was completed yesterday with the opening of a 250-job superstore.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held before the first customers came through the doors at the new Morrisons store in Morpeth, which has created an additional 80 jobs in the town.
About 170 workers have transferred to the 26,500sq ft Low Stanners store from Morrisons’ existing supermarket just across the road.
More than 60 of the new jobs created have gone to people who were previously long-term unemployed after the retail giant worked closely with Job Centre Plus on its recruitment process.
The opening of the store is part of a major investment in Morpeth over the last five years by Yorkshire-based developer Dransfield Properties.
Dransfield successfully built the flagship £32m Sanderson Arcade shopping centre, which was opened by Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley in November 2009.
A £3.5m second phase of the arcade was opened later, and millions more have been invested in the new superstore.
Yesterday Dransfield Properties said it has no further large-scale development plans in Morpeth at present.
Managing director Mark Dransfield said: ”The new store looks fantastic and we are delighted to see it open and trading. Our team has worked on this project for the last four years, and it’s very rewarding for everyone involved to see it completed.
“We have always strongly believed that this is the right location for a foodstore in Morpeth, keeping retail activity close to the town centre. The store has been designed with strong links to the town centre, and the additional long stay car parking is also going to make a huge difference.
“Though this marks the culmination of our major works in the town, we look forward to carrying on our work with other stakeholders and groups to continue to promote Morpeth as a great place to visit and shop.”
The new superstore was granted outline planning permission by the county council in 2010, beating off rival bids by retail giants Tesco and Sainsbury’s for new stores on the outskirts of Morpeth.
It is a Morrisons craft skills academy which focuses on traditional skills such as butchers, bakers and fishmongers. Shoppers can watch bakers kneading dough at the front of the bakery, specialists hand finishing cakes and butchers making sausages behind open-plan counters.
It also has a flower shop, cake shop, pizza counter, a delicatessen and customer cafe, as well as special misting technology to keep fruit and vegetables fresh.
One of Morrisons longest serving Morpeth employees, Mary Farrell, who has worked at the old store since it opened 25 years ago, cut the ribbon yesterday with Anne Guy, a local volunteer with Save the Children, which is the company’s official charity partner.
The old store is now on the market and said to be attracting interest from potential buyers.
The new store’s general manager, Keith Nicholson, said: “I’d like to thank local residents for their patience while the store was being built, and I hope they’ll be as impressed with it as I am.
“The layout is fantastic, with much more space than the old store.
“We’re really pleased that we’ve been able to create so many permanent jobs for people in the town and we hope that the store will draw even more shoppers into Morpeth.