SAINSBURY’S is almost certainly coming to Morpeth, the Herald can reveal.
Speculation has been rife about who has taken over the Black Swan in Stobhill after previous owners Scottish and Newcastle Leased Properties secured permission for an extension before selling the building earlier in the year.
In recent weeks work has begun on the Shields Road landmark, but there was still no word on what it would become.
Now the Herald can reveal that supermarket giant Sainsbury’s does have an interest in the former pub.
Information obtained from the Land Registry shows that while the new owner of the building is Datalouise SA, a real estate company incorporated in Belgium, Sainsbury’s is listed as the beneficiary of a conditional agreement for lease within the Charges Register.
The news is likely to receive a mixed response from residents as several have already spoken of their fears about the impact a mini-supermarket could have on the area.
They say there would be a loss of trade for local independent shops and that Stobhill will no longer have a pub.
One of those with concerns, Peter Robinson, said: “There will be major traffic implications if Sainsbury’s opened in the Black Swan.
“It is already bad in Stobhill at peak times so surely the county council’s highways department will need to get involved to help make sure it doesn’t get worse.”
However, not all are against the expected change.
Resident Linda White said: “I don’t have any objections to it becoming a Sainsbury’s and it would be useful for residents as it would be within walking distance.
“I don’t think it will take trade away from Morpeth town centre, but it could well affect the local shops which sell food, and possibly the post office.”
The Black Swan has been empty since last year. Even though a store would be a change of use, planning permission is not required for a pub to be converted into a shop.
At Morpeth Town Council’s Planning and Transport Committee, members were unaware of Sainsbury’s specific interest, but raised concerns about it being turned into a food store.
Acting Chairman David Parker said: “A resident raised the point with me that a certain supermarket chain had got its eyes on this building and she was asking if it is possible to turn a pub into a food shop without planning permission.
“The question was put to a planning officer and the answer is yes. There is no obligation to apply for permission so it is quite possible that this is what could be happening.
“I think local shops already have a hard time and this would just make it that much more difficult for them.”
Coun Dave Herne added: “If that did happen it could seriously affect the small local convenience store.”
Mayor Mark Horton said: “I regularly drive past what was a pub in Hartlepool and it is now a small supermarket. There was an item on the radio about this being exactly what is happening. These businesses are closing and they are being taken over by various supermarkets so keep drinking in your pubs.”
Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade is also dismayed at the likely development.
Chairman John Beynon said: “This will devastate the shops at Stobhill, as well as harm the shops in the town centre. While it will not be a massive store, it is still edge-of-town shopping.
“It is not very good for Morpeth in these economic times. It has been made difficult for people to get into Morpeth and there will be free parking up there so it is going to damage the small independent traders.”
Sainsbury’s had previously sought permission for a major shop at Stobhill in a field off the A196 and A192, prompting store wars with Tesco, which was planning a store in Coopies Lane, and Dransfield Properties, which was applying for a supermarket off Dark Lane in Morpeth town centre.
The town centre option was approved by county planners in summer 2010 when the other bids were rejected.
Sainsbury’s declined to comment on the latest Land Registry information.