Goodbye to Greenwich’s ‘eco’-Sainsbury’s: 1999 – 2015

Sainsbury's Greenwich, 24 June 2015

On a September morning nearly 16 years ago, I watched Jamie Oliver fire a little white cannon to open the “eco” Sainsbury’s in east Greenwich.

Last night, on a warm June evening, I watched it close for the last time.

Greenwich Sainsbury's, 23 June 2015
Greenwich Sainsbury's, 24 June 2015

At 5.58pm, people were still wandering into the store. If it wasn’t for people leaving through the entrance rather than the already-closed exit, you’d have thought all was normal.

Then some staff filed out, and at 6pm, a smiling security guard took charge of the door.

As the staff posed for photos, the final shoppers left. Some shook the security guard’s hand, one hugged him. A young woman next to me turned around as she left and said, “bye bye, Sainsbury’s”.

And that was it. One of the staff patiently explained to a man he was too late to do his shopping, I toddled off to North Greenwich station.

Greenwich Sainsbury's, 24 June 2015
Greenwich Sainsbury's, 24 June 2015

While watching the scene, I realised just how much people will miss this supermarket. It may not have worked as well as Sainsbury’s intended, but with its distinctive shape and natural light pouring through, it was that rarest of stores – one that was a pleasure to shop in. People even came from across the river. A favourite of stock photographers, you could see it on the news and know it was our Sainsbury’s. Not any more.

Of course, the “eco” store wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. And coming home at ten to midnight last night, when you’d expect stock and equipment to be being moved out, the lights shone as brightly as they ever did on what’s now a ghost supermarket. Maybe we’ll never know how ecologically-friendly this building really was.

From 9am today, the action moves down the road to Gallions Road in Charlton. The new store may be bigger, but it won’t be open through the night like its predecessor. It’s already in hot water over its giant signs, which were refused planning permission but appeared anyway.

It’ll probably lose custom from the Greenwich Millennium Village, which grew up behind the store and whose residents treated it as their local. It’ll certainly lose a chunk of custom from those who won’t be able to take the bus there any more – Transport for London having refused to extend route 202 from Blackheath to the Charlton store, despite the store developer offering money.

With wider trends in the industry favouring home delivery, smaller shops or discount stores, I wonder if Sainsbury’s will come to regret going for such a huge new store.

Greenwich Sainsbury's 23 June 2015

As for 55 Bugsby’s Way, the future is bleak. There’s no news on any short-term use for the doomed building. Ikea’s planning permission for the site remains only outline, the Swedish furniture giant poised to submit a full planning application after what, by all accounts, seems to have been a token consultation with local community groups. There’s even talk of Ikea eyeing up the adjacent B&Q site.

Like so many of the Greenwich Peninsula dreams of 1999, the eco-Sainsbury’s turned out to be a false start. Now there’ll be a solid block of big-box retail with enormous car parks for a full mile between Greenwich and Charlton. And people say London’s short of places to build new homes in.

Greenwich Sainsbury's 23 June 2015

Would it have been better if Sainsbury’s had never come here in the first place? It depends how much you can tolerate Asda, I guess. Or if you want a steady, big-name employer to give people work – and the staff at the Greenwich store have been exemplary over the years. The new store will have more of them.

But in future, if a stranger approaches your town and offers you an eco-supermarket, you may wish to think very carefully before you accept…

10.30am update: The Charlton Champion went to see the new Charlton Sainsbury’s.
Charlton Sainsbury's, 24 June 2014

20 comments

  1. Charltonforever

    I have mixed feelings about the new Sainsbury’s. The old store was great but like being able to walk to the new one from home, and I guess that the larger store might have created more jobs? Excited about the new Marks and Spencer though – any idea when it’s opening Darren? Thanks, always enjoy reading your posts.

  2. Darryl

    I’m sure Darren will be along later to answer, Charltonforever. (15 July, I’m told.) (9 July, it says on the new store)

  3. lucyneville2013

    I remember the GLC habitat survey team in the 1980s going around the ares cataloguing and mapping the fantastic wildlife reclaimed once the docks and gasworks had been. There were skylarks, kestrels, clouds of butterflies….You might still be able to get hold of the publications that they published. Even then there were big hopes for sustainable housing throughout the Greenwich Peninsula once the soil- pollution was dealt with. Like you say this should surely be the primary purpose of these increasingly rejected large shopping areas. Built to last, enviromentally high-spec housing with mixed facilities that every community needs (including workshops for start-up small businesses) with plenty of riverine open spaces ….nice to dream.

  4. Jackie Smith

    what a total calamity in my view, closing this branch of Sainsbury’s and opening a mega store that is not at all as easy to reach for thousands of us. the whole area will become even more congested with cars trailing to and from the mega stores, amongst a desolate, ugly landscape (have you ever tried walking along from The Woolwich Road to where Asda is located? a total nightmare for pedestrians). Reading above the messages, and your post Darren (excellent as usual), there is nothing more I can add; suffice to say re the “affordable” housing for local people, the local wildlife/ ecology vision, all come to nothing alongside the greed for ever mega-giant stores, and Royal Greenwich’s yet again unkept promises (all seem reliant on cosying-up to big business and usefully forgetting their promises to their electorate). Such a tragic lost opportunity for a riverside locality to enhance the quality of our lives. Greenwich becomes more and more high-build and mega-build; views of the sky become scarcer as the high-rises continue to obliterate; increasing traffic including big lorries delivering 24×7 … all so depressing …

  5. Jim

    What’s the general (commercial) reasoning behind closing the current store? I don’t really understand – it seems bonkers at face value.

  6. Pingback: Charlton Sainsbury’s: First look inside the brand new store | The Charlton Champion
  7. Darryl

    Jim – In short, Sainsbury’s line is that the old store hadn’t worked as well as expected (the cooling systems kept failings, or something like that) and that it had been *too* successful – it was too small.

  8. jimreason

    Darryl,

    I really don’t get that reasoning. The scariest thing is that the existing store exists on multiple dual carriageways, and the new store exists on single roads. How they possibly expect the road infrastructure to cope I have no idea.

    Why not re-furb or expand the existing site if it’s too small?

    Crazy.

  9. m1ssan0nym0us

    I wonder if Sainsbury’s are regretting this development with the current economic situation. We have already witnessed the closure of many supermarket sites across the UK . I agree with previous comments about the traffic. It is going to be Chaos. Can you image the grid lock if there’s a problem in the Tunnel. Come to think of it ,Its just going to be grid locked anyway. We also have Ikea a River crossing and a Cruise liner port to look forward too. Pollution levels are already dangerously high, I noted some of the points raised by the No Silvertown team, The traffic around these shopping area’s is going to be almost static. Weekends. it could become deadly for kids playing in their own gardens, Pollution is a silent killer very much like passive smoking. I lived in Belvedere as a child it had the highest level of kids with Asthma in the UK all because of 1 factories pollution. Surely there are some Human rights or Health and safety issues here.

  10. Mary Mills (@maryorelse)

    Couple of things – I think it would be good to remember Paul Hinkin who was the architect of the Sainsbury’s store – won all the prizes for its sustainability – and who died a short time after it had got demolition consent – and I remember him well speaking at the planning meeting against its demolition.
    On the nature stuff – I still have a copy of Millennium Domesday if anyone is interested

  11. Paul Mincher

    Well I do like the building but have stopped going to large supermarkets as they are expensive, take too long to get to and produce way too much packaging. Local shops at the Standard provide much better value and much less stress!

  12. Chris

    I’ll certainly check the place out, but I very much doubt I will use it regularly. I don’t like the ‘retail barn’ experience and can just about tolerate Asda which I use for the bulk purchases of essentials. Otherwise I use the local shops, a few pence more perhaps (often not though!) and a far less stressful trip!
    I am also worried about the impact of these new barns on traffic in the area. Charlton Church Lane is already being clogged by inconsiderate parking outside the Sainsbury’s Local (!!) and the cretinous re-phasing of the lights there. It aint going to get any better!

  13. James

    Visited the new Sainsbury’s Charlton Riverside today yes all the wood pillars give that barn feeling. Such height with only level sales floor. No pharmacy I was told until Aug. 2015. Staff member suggested new cross and Lee green Sainsbury’s stores very silly considering there is Boots and Asda pharmacy next door.

    I will only will use this new unit M&S food regularly due to open 9th July on my way home from work and use route 188 to Tesco in Surrey Quays as it is 24Hrs and the DLR with no traffic jams is very handy for Waitrose in Canary Wharf as it has a better range. Maybe big business will listen to locals more as most of the buck in my pocket will be going out of Greenwich and additional news for Sainsbury’s an elderly couple having extreme difficulty trying to carry their shopping across the dual carriage way to get to the 486 &472 bus stop on the other side of Bugsby Way. I feel that Sainsbury’s will come to face a big headache with this bigger barn style store. A big mistake with Sainsbury’s hitting Greenwich with all these stores in the following locations in East Greenwich Local, Charlton Local, Woolwich Local, Woolwich Calderwood street, Abbey wood, Greenwich Town center Local, Creek road local also there is another Sainsbury’s and Asda planned in Lewisham near the new swimming baths, which will be the first to go and for a bigger headache, I under stand that Aldi is coming to SE7. The year 2031 is the next 16 years or sooner.

  14. Janine Evelyn-Wilson

    Went for a trial-run shop at the new Sainsbury’s. My favourite breads (Cranks and Vogels) were not on the shelves. The Manager was wandering around with a rep. from central office so I confronted them about the bread. Others had also complained apparently. I said the new store was just like Tesco. ‘Ouch!’ That hurts,’ the bigwig said. But inside it IS just like the monstrous Woolwich Tesco. And the exterior a huge expanse of concrete nothingness, designed to pack the cars in. I’m now looking for the nearest Waitrose.

  15. EssKay

    It’s a real shame to see such an iconic building (for a supermarket 🙂 being abandoned.

    I can understand if Sainsbury’s didn’t want to keep it, it would have been difficult to preserve but was any attempt made to find another tenant rather than pull it down? Also, would Sainsbury’s have been so keen to abandon it without the prospect of a big traditional retail box version just down the road?

    For me, this all goes back to poor planning – what are RBG doing promoting big retail sheds in such a densely populated area – especially as most progressive cities are going in completely the opposite direction (smaller retail, mixed use, pedestrian/cycle friendly etc)

    We all know there’s no accountability at RBG with locals overwhelmingly opposed to the direction that whole area is moving in, (with IKEA and thr Silvertown tunnel being the worst examples) but it also doesn’t make any sense from a town planning perspective – this isn’t some failing northern town where any development = good development, it’s a near-prime area where some visionary planning could have totally transformed it into a genuinely pleasant place to live.

  16. The Hebridean

    What a horrible new building with nothing going for it except size and even more goodies to make us part with our money. How I wish all these developers had to live near their own creations for a year or so (perhaps put it in a as a planning condition). And that’s as likely to happen as the council listening to sense over its increasing roll-over to big business. Jobs ok; but the price being paid is a high one for those of us who live nearby with the consequences of totally unsustainable development. Yes we get told it’s sustainable but do you believe the developers reports and figures?

  17. Chris

    Went there this morning, just before 0800. As I feared, too big for me. They put all the quilts, bedding and whatnot right at the front so to get to the tucker you have a bit of a walk. When you get there, it could be any supermarket. The sign outside says it’s open from 0700 while the internet site says 0600. I wonder which is correct?

  18. Egn

    Disappointed with the new building, just another warehouse like everywhere else and so big it is difficult to find anything. The signs over the aisles were too low so not much help in finding anything as you can’t see them until you are close. Will miss the light and space of the old building, will go there as seldom as possible.

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