Published: 08:01, 08 January 2015
| Updated: 08:30, 08 January 2015
Tesco has abandoned plans for huge superstores in Dartford and Strood, KentOnline can reveal.
Chief executive David Lewis said it was with a "heavy heart" that the retail giant was scrapping the proposals.
The supermarket confirmed today it is mothballing both schemes as it pulls out of 49 developments nationally.
The supermarket also announced plans to close 43 unprofitable stores across the UK, although the locations of these have not yet been revealed.
Tesco fought for 11 years to win planning permission for the Dartford development, which would have seen the new branch and more than 100 homes built on the site.
The company had also dithered over plans to treble the size of its Cuxton Road store in Strood, after apparently pulling out an agreement to help build a £1m community hub on the town's former Bryant Road library in 2013.
Mr Lewis said: “It is with a heavy heart that I am today announcing that we are unable to proceed with 49 planned new store developments across the UK, including our planned stores in Dartford and Strood.
"Our performance as a business has fallen significantly short of where we would want it to be and my absolute imperative has to be to protect the future of our business for the 300,000 colleagues we employ in communities all over the UK.
"I know that this news will be a real disappointment to many people in these local communities and we’re extremely grateful for the support we’ve received for our plans.
"I am very aware of the importance of the Lowfield site to the area and I am determined that we will work closely with the Council to find the right solution for the local community.”
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson received the news this morning in a letter from the Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis.
Mr Johnson said: “It’s been a very frustrating episode for Dartford, especially when you see how little Tesco has actually done over the years (since announcing its plans).
“It brings to an end a sorry tale for the town. But at least the one positive is that there is finally some closure and we can look to the future of Lowfield Street and want we want for that area. Dartford will not be sorry to see the back of Tesco.”
He is meeting Tesco bosses next week for discussions about the future.
Leader of Dartford council Cllr Jeremy Kite said: "The company has been telling us since last autumn, when we first got involved and the national problems became visible, that they were still regarding Dartford as a viable development. I made clear at the time that I did not necessarily believe them.
"I'm more convinced with today's news that something must be done to prevent this situation happening again.
"I appreciate that there is politics at play here and that people will want to blame us and suggest that there are mistakes that I have made but I want to focus only on what happens to Dartford now. Our job is to make sure Dartford prospers out of this.
"I don't think Dartford has any more stomach for Tesco. I hope Tesco announce that they are going to hand it over to developers that have more vision than they have. But given the situation on the high street, it is more likely that any development will be for residential purposes."
He said there was nothing he could say that would express his anger more than when he met them last year.
Cllr Kite added that he had been approached by other "interested parties", including supermarket chains, other retailers, and housing developers, registering their interest in the site in the event of a pull-out by Tesco.
Although the news comes as a huge blow for the town, it was not entirely unexpected - as predicted on KentOnline in October.
The announcement comes after a troubled two years for Tesco, which has seen its profits slump and a unfolding accounting scandal.
In addition to closing 43 stores - most of which are expected to be local convenience shops - Tesco will be pulling out of 49 developments, including Dartford and Strood.
The news comes despite better-than-expected Christmas trading, which saw sales down just 0.3% on the previous year.
Medway Council’s economics chief Cllr Jane Chitty said the move to cancel the Strood redevelopment was no great surprise given the supermarket’s recent troubles.
She said: “It’s very disappointing because it is a popular store.
“Hopefully in the future its fortunes will change and it would be nice to see a smaller scale refurbishment of that store.”
Demolition work in Lowfield Street, Dartford, had finally begun last year after much wrangling over the site.
In 2003, plans were thrown out by the Secretary of State while a revised scheme was considered unviable five years later.
A breakthrough looked possible in 2012 when Dartford council approved a renewed application but the supermarket giant changed its mind over what it wanted to build and submitted a revised scheme in July 2013.
The fourth application was approved and demolition finally got under way last year.
But many had their doubts that a store would ever appear.
The long-running saga has seen residents, businesses and members of the Glentworth Club all stand up to Tesco, accusing them of being unreasonable.
One trader who closed down last year to make way for the scheme was Richardson and Sons Butchers, who had been a part of the Dartford town centre landscape since 1920.
For the past 11 of those 104 years, owner Ray Richardson had suffered grief and uncertainty, as supermarket giant Tesco stopped and started over the planned development of Lowfield Street, which required the land Mr Richardson’s shop stood on.
After years of discussion, and a compulsory purchase order hanging over his head, Mr Richardson agreed to sell his business in 2011, when the third application from the supermarket was put it.
But that fell through when Tesco changed its mind over the plans and made a fourth application for the site.
That was approved and last January, Mr Richardson agreed to sell his property to Tesco and took early retirement, having started working in his father and grandfather’s business at the age of 20.
Meanwhile, Tesco said it will continue to pursue plans to build a new store in Pembury, where it already has a superstore.
Mr Lewis added: “We continue to believe that a new store in Pembury will provide a valued service to the local community.
“The new store will provide a great shopping experience as well as bringing additional jobs and investment to the area.”
In his letter to Mr Johnson, Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis said: "My absolute imperative has to be to protect the future of our business for the c. 300,000 colleagues we employ in communities all over the UK.
"In recent weeks we have had to face up to some very tough decisions which affect many hard-working people.
"I don’t do that lightly and so it is with a heavy heart that I am announcing today that we are unable to proceed with 49 new planned store developments across the country, including our planned store in Dartford.
"I am very sorry that we have not been able to deliver the investment that we intended. I know this news will be a real disappointment to many people in your community and we are extremely grateful for the support we have received for our plans.
"I am very aware of the importance of the site to the local community and I am determined that we will work closely with you and Dartford council to find the right solution for your community."
Tesco's share price rose by 9% this morning after the news its Christmas sales fell less than expected.
Simon Thomson, Labour's parliamentary candidate for Dartford, said the news "hardly comes as a surprise".
He continued: "Anyone who walks past the boarded up shops in Lowfield Street or has read the company's annual report will realise that.
"The Tory council in Dartford has overseen this sorry saga for 12 long years. And the Tory MP has done nothing over the last five years to find a resolution and come up with alternative plans. They've failed Dartford and have left the town centre to rot. It was foolish to solely rely on a supermarket to regenerate Dartford, without a plan B.
"But we don't have to watch our town centre die. We need a new vision and fresh start for Dartford."
While Dartford's UKIP parliamentary candidate Elizabeth Jones says "heads should roll" at the council for allowing the town centre to become a "wasteland".
She said: "Successive administrations at the Council have placed excessive reliance on Tesco for many years as it absolved them of the responsibility to think of a better plan.
"Our once vibrant town centre has been reduced to a wasteland of empty shops and demolition sites.
"It is the sort of catastrophic failure for which heads should roll at the Council, although we're not holding our breath for any resignations