SAINSBURY’S has confirmed it has pulled out of the much-delayed £50m Charter redevelopment for Abingdon.

The supermarket giant, which had not previously been identified as the chain expected to anchor the redevelopment, said it could not reach an agreement with Charter operator Scottish Widows Investment Partnership (SWIP) on a viable scheme.

Vale of White Horse District council leases the shopping precinct to Scottish Widows and last night it was unclear what length of delay Sainsbury’s withdrawal would cause.

Sainsbury’s spokeswoman Janet Heald said: “We were negotiating a deal with (developer) New River and Scottish Widows but couldn’t reach agreement on a viable scheme, so we made the decision not to progress any further.

“We informed Matt Prosser, strategic director of Vale of White Horse District Council, who had been very supportive of our plans.”

Scottish Widows has been pledging to build a supermarket, medical centre, library and possibly a hotel in the Charter since 2009.

Scottish Widows spokeswoman Kahrene Lawrie said: “It’s had an impact in terms of timings but we are now exploring a range of other options and hope to report further in due course.”

But, she said she could not provide any more detail of how the project was progressing or when a planning application might be submitted.

She refused to say if any discussions had started with another supermarket chain.

Liberal Democrat group leader for the Vale, Richard Webber, said he hoped the scheme could still go ahead.

He said: “This is very disappointing for the whole town. I sincerely hope that they manage to find another partner.”

Mr Webber previously called on the Vale and the firms involved not to keep residents in the dark about the future of the Charter.

He said: “I would like to think the Vale is regularly kept up-to-date with difficulties, in case there is something they could do to help.”

Scottish Widows has a 150-year lease from Vale of White Horse District Council and has already spent £4.5m revamping existing shops.

Vale spokesman Gavin Walton said: “We continue to work positively with our partners to bring forward a solution for the Charter area.”

When SWIP unveiled the plan in 2009, senior investment manager Peter Webb said: “We appreciate that Abingdon residents have been given promises by previous owners, which has resulted in disap-pointed shoppers.”

Town Council leader Sandy Lovatt said in November last year that he was expecting SWIP to apply for planning permission in January.