Tesco is to build a superstore in Penwortham after all, following a dramatic U-turn by the retail giant.
The company has announced it will now go-ahead with the project, just 17 months after it pulled out and put the land up for sale.
Tesco bosses say the store, on the five-acre former Department for Work and Pensions site at the junction of Cop Lane and Liverpool Road, should be open by autumn next year.
It could create up to 300 jobs.
The plans include a self-service petrol station. But it is not clear if the supermarket will still have 24-hour opening, as originally envisaged.
The news was welcomed by Penwortham Mayor Coun Geoff Crewe who said: “I’m delighted, because the council and a lot of the residents of Penwortham are fed up with having a derelict site.
“It will mean additional jobs for the town and it will mean additional car parking - if Tesco allow that - which are both very welcome.”
Preston-based commercial property consultants Eckersley have been handling the site for Tesco.
Director Andy Taylorson said: “The decision to build the store is positive for Penwortham and will make the town centre more of a destination.”
The change of heart comes after a period of re-focusing by Tesco, led by outgoing CEO Dave Lewis.
“It is excellent news that Tesco have chosen to progress Penwortham after the speculation associated with the site and its possible sale,” added Andy Taylorson.
“Our previous experience working with Tesco on their stores in Leyland and Burscough is that they helped revitalise rundown centres and struggling business as they do act as a destination location and linked trips to other retail outlets.
“This, in my opinion, will be good for Penwortham with its range of independent traders and leisure outlets, particularly if both the County Council and South Ribble follow through with their pedestrian and street enhancement works proposals to improve the customer experience and public realm.”
Tesco first bought the site after a previous supermarket plan by Sainsbury’s was abandoned in 2013.
Planning permission was granted for a 24-hour store, with access from Liverpool Road. But the UK’s largest supermarket chain decided in May last year not to proceed and asked Eckersley to market the site.
Now, 17 months on, the company says it has had a rethink and the superstore will be built.
Tesco said that after a “constructive” meeting with both South Ribble and Penwortham Town Council, it had decided to “revive” its plans for the new store.
A spokesman said: “The decision to make this major investment in the town follows a detailed review of the site by Tesco.
“We hope the scheme will deliver a significant number of new jobs for the town.”
The company revealed that a typical superstore employs around 300 people, bringing new employment opportunities for locals.
Work will begin on the site “as soon as possible” with the new store aiming to open by late 2020.
Coun David Howarth, who represents Penwortham on town, district and county councils, admitted the about-turn was welcome.
“This has come as a real bolt out of the blue,” he said. “Yes, it’s good news because the site is standing derelict and it needs to be developed.
“Tesco were supposed to have had 18 bids and a smaller supermarket was also said to be sniffing round.
“Hopefully this is not another stall and let’s see some bricks being laid.
“I have heard Tesco are building only three new stores in the UK and this is one of them.
“My concern is that, now we are getting towards the completion of the Penwortham Bypass and with the reconfiguration and redevelopment of Liverpool Road, it will be bringing traffic into the town centre, not out of it.
“There is still some opposition to a supermarket there. But it has planning permission and there is nothing anyone can do about it.”
Coun Bill Evans, South Ribble cabinet member for planning, regeneration and City Deal, said: “We’re delighted that Tesco has chosen to retain and develop the site in Penwortham.
“The new Tesco in the area will be great for the local economy, will provide improved accessibility to the town centre and will create jobs for local people.
“This is a really exciting time for Penwortham. Already the area is a hub of activity with the brand new Penwortham Bypass – John Horrocks Way – due to open soon and with the new Tesco planned, we envision the centre will flourish even further in years to come.”
The superstore site has been vacant since 2009 when staff from HMRC and the Department of Work and Pensions were moved to Preston in a government cost-cutting exercise.
Buildings which had stood on the land since the 1950s and at one time had accommodated up to 350 staff, were bulldozed and the land has since been left vacant.
Sainsbury’s initially snapped it up in 2010 to build a larger supermarket. But after getting planning permission, the company dropped its plans and the site was sold by London-based Trillium to Tesco in 2013.
Tesco submitted revised plans for a smaller store in 2016, only to abandon the scheme in May 2018, putting the land back up for sale.
Now the retailer has announced an about-turn and said it will build the store with a projected opening date of Autumn 2020.
When Tesco submitted its plans for a 24-hour supermarket, the land already had permission for a larger development granted to Trillium (Prime Property) on behalf of Sainsbury’s.
The Tesco scheme was for a smaller scale store, with two non-food retail units attached, together with a petrol station on-site.
The plans, which were passed, included free parking for 253 vehicles, with a two-hour time limit to prevent long-stay.
The layout of the site shows the superstore will back onto the side of Penwortham Girls High School, with the petrol station on the opposite side next to Liverpool Road.
Traffic access for customers will be via a traffic light controlled junction off Liverpool Road, next to the former library. Delivery vehicles will have their own access off Cop Lane.
A new road layout currently being built will mean vehicles wanting to access the store from Penwortham Hill will only have a single lane, compared with the two which currently operate.
Drivers wanting to approach from Cop Lane will have to take a right turn at the junction with Liverpool Road and right again into the site.
When planning permission was granted a report said: “The proposals will deliver a high quality standard of development on the site.”
Tesco revealed the store could provide as many as 300 jobs, although many could be part-time.
Timeline of events
2008 - Government earmarks its Cop Lane site for closure as cost-cutting measure.
2009 - Last staff move out and site becomes vacant.
Oct 2010 - Sainsbury’s snap up the site.
May 2012 - South Ribble Council give planning permission for superstore despite 700 objections.
Oct 2013 - Sainsbury’s pull out and Tesco steps in.
Apr 2014 - Concerned council ask Tesco what its intentions are for land.
Jan 2015 - Tesco announces it still intends to build store with an opening date of Christmas 2016.
Feb 2016 - Tesco re-affirms its plan to open store after concerns that the land is being left to stagnate.
Dec 2016 - Tesco submits plans to council for store which is smaller than Sainsbury’s plan.
July 2017 - Plans are passed with work due to start and opening date of Spring 2018.
Oct 2017 - Work starts on demolishing the former Government site.
May 2018 - Out of the blue Tesco announces it will not be progressing with the supermarket plan.
June 2018 - Tesco puts the land up for sale with Eckersley.
Aug 2018 - Company says it is reviewing bids.
Sept 2019 - Tesco says it is “actively looking for a positive future for site.”
Oct 2019 - Supermarket plan is back on with an opening target of Autumn 2020.