CO-OP bosses, who are closing a Northumberland store with the loss of 29 jobs, have pinned part of the blame on their failure to secure new premises within a £30m town centre shopping revamp.
The Co-operative Group sparked anger by announcing just two weeks before Christmas that its foodstore in Back Riggs, Morpeth, is to shut down next month.
Co-op chiefs say the store has been experiencing trading difficulties for some time – but now claim the closure decision has also been triggered by a failure to negotiate new premises in the £30m retail re-development under way in the town centre.
Yesterday the group said it is ‘disappointed’ not to have been offered a viable unit in the Dransfield Properties scheme to create a new 24-shop mall, offices, an extended Morrisons supermarket and a filling station on the ageing Back Riggs and Sanderson Arcade site. Spokeswoman Carol Pyper said: “The Co-op foodstore in Morpeth has been experiencing trading difficulties for some time. In addition, the site where the store is located is to be re-developed and, following lengthy negotiations with the owner of the store, we were disappointed not to have been offered a viable unit in the re-development. We, therefore, have no option but to close the store.
“What we were offered was not suitable for various reasons and they could not come up with anything better. That left us with no option but to close.
“We appreciate that some staff feel the timing of the announcement is poor. However, we feel it is more responsible to inform staff of the situation now than after the Christmas period.”
Jackie Helliwell, of Barnsley-based Dransfield Properties, said the development company would have been happy for the Co-op store to be part of the Morpeth re-development, and there was no suggestion of them being pushed out. “For whatever reason, the Co-op chose not to be part of our scheme, but we did negotiate with them and offer them space, because there is room for food outlets in the new development. We don’t want to get into a dispute about it.”
The store will close on Saturday, January 19, and efforts are being made to redeploy as many of the 14 full-time and 15 part-time staff as possible.
Coun Les Cassie, who represents Morpeth on both the borough and county councils, said: “A lot of older people in the centre of the town have been devoted to the Co-op as a movement as much as a shop for most of their lives. It is very convenient for them to use and I have had a lot of people ringing up and saying how terrible the closure decision is.
“It had been widely expected that the Co-op would be part of the town centre development and it came as a total surprise and shock to hear they are pulling out.”