Shoppers have been left in limbo over the opening of a multi-million pound supermarket development which promised to bring hundreds jobs to a shopping centre.
Morrisons has already been handed the keys to the new store it is due to launch in Murton as part of the £45million expansion plans at Dalton Park.
But the supermarket giant told the Echo is is unable to confirm an opening date while it continues to carry out a review of “new store formats”, including the Dalton Park site.
The shopping centre’s management say the company has signed a 25-year lease for the building, which has been constructed alongside a cinema, restaurants, hotel, petrol station and pub.
The plans pledged to bring 500 more jobs to the site, joining the 500 already employed on the ex-pit site.
The latest results announced by the supermarket showed it is returning to growth, with its convenience store businesses sold off and unprofitable supermarkets closed down, prices reduced and lines expanded.
We appreciate that the community is keen for the store open but we have to conclude our review before any decisions can be made.Morrisons spokesman
A Morrisons spokesperson said: “We are currently undertaking a review of our new store formats and the Dalton Park store is part of this review.
“As a result, we are unable to confirm an opening date at this time. “We appreciate that the community is keen for the store open but we have to conclude our review before any decisions can be made.”
The building also houses a non-retail unit to rent out.
Recruitment is already under way by KFC, which is due to open next Friday, Pizza Express, which is scheduled to open on July 21, with Frankie and Benny’s and Cineworld also looking for staff.
An update issued by Dalton Park states Bowmer & Kirkland, the main contractors of the new development, are getting ready to leave site.
It added: “All of the phase two buildings have been handed over to the individual tenants on schedule and shop fit teams are starting to move in.
“The hoarding has been removed so next time you visit you will be able to view the extension to the mall and the new buildings.”
No further details were issued on the Morrisons scheme.
The shopping outlet launched in 2003 and the second phase was expected to follow on soon after, but the project was hit by delays, with it finally given approval by Durham County Council in 2011.
The plans had been recommended for refusal by planning officers, as there were also plans in for a large Tesco on the former East Durham College site in Essington Way, Peterlee, and as part of the Castle Dene shopping centre in the two.
Those schemes had objected to Dalton Park’s expansion on the basis it was out of two and there was not the demand for all three stores.
Tesco has since shelved its plan and the Castle Dene proposal has failed to come to fruition, leaving Dalton Park the only store to progress.
A community leader who campaigned for Dalton Park to open has voiced concern at the uncertainty over the new supermarket.
Councillor Paul Penman, vice chairman of Murton Parish Council, was a member of the Dalton Park Action Group, which campaigned for the site to get the go ahead.
Coun Penman said: “I have heard the rumours that Morrisons wasn’t going to open.
“The statement it has given is a bit woolly.
“People will be very disappointed because first and foremost, there’s not going to be a supermarket available.
“The nearest one is Seaham and this will also serve Hetton, South Hetton, Easington Lane, all the surrounding villages, and that’s quite a large catchment area.
“People will be coming to go to the cinema once it’s open and there’s what’s already at Dalton Park.
“There’s a real demand for it.
“Everybody’s wanted to know when work would be available and it’s bringing money into our economy.
“Thousands of people supported this and signed petitions.”