West Wales is one of the last remaining blanks on the Sainsbury's map, and it became clear that the supermarket group had ambitions in the area when it acquired the former Somerfield store in Lampeter after Co-op found itself with two supermarkets in that town.
Lampeter was never going to be a lone outrider for long given the way supermarket distribution networks operate, and the store group was soon busy with plans for a large new store in Cardigan. The proposed supermarkets in Cross Hands and Llandeilo would have been two more dots in the supply chain.
The surprising thing was always the scale of the proposed supermarket in Llandeilo, and the supermarket group itself was telling the truth when it recently described the proposed development as marginal. The truth was that a store on that scale would have struggled, and it would inevitably have had to suck the lifeblood from existing businesses in town to make the sums add up.
Even more questionable was the county council's decision to support the application in the face of the evidence.
Both Sainsbury's and the County Council invested a lot of PR capital in this exercise, and both have ended up with egg on their faces. Sainsbury's now looks like a petulant bully, and the collapse of the plan has dealt a further blow to the integrity of the council itself.
The council leader, Kevin Madge, finds himself under investigation for his part in the press release scandal, and there will be more calls for a root and branch inquiry into the workings of the council's planning department. What is now very clear is that the arm's length relationship which ought to exist between the quasi-judicial functions of the planning department and the council's executive has long since broken down.
Plaid Cymru summed things up well in its comment on the decision when it said,
It is clear the Council’s executive and Sainsbury’s are unhappy with their actions being scrutinised. The decision to withdraw the planning application indicates serious flaws in the planning process and disdain for planning legislation.
Sainsbury's has also been having a torrid time over its much delayed plans for a large new store in Cardigan. The plans met with strong local opposition, and after millions were spent preparing the Bath House site, the store group recently had to acknowledge that it was still trying to sort out problems with the stability of the land.
Just like Llandeilo, the proposed Cardigan store is too large, although unlike Llandeilo Sainsbury's will find itself competing for business with Tesco and Aldi. Tesco put in plans for a large store extension as soon as Sainsbury's showed up, and so Cardigan can expect the two groups to slug it out, most likely at the expense of the town's independent retailers.
That will be a great shame because Cardigan has been transformed in recent years, partly thanks to Ceredigion County Council but also partly thanks to the efforts of a number of local initiatives, such as Pwllhai. The result is that civil society is alive and kicking in Cardigan, whereas over the border Carmarthenshire's top-down, Big Brother approach views local initiatives with contempt and a distraction from the real business of doing mega-deals with Mega Bucks Inc.
Perhaps the most interesting comment yesterday on the Llandeilo fiasco came from Simon Buckley, chief executive of Evans-Evans Brewery, who was quoted by Robert Lloyd on his blog here.
Mr Buckley, who has fought hard on behalf of local businesses throughout the Sainsbury's saga, said:
I now challenge Carmarthenshire Council's chief executive Mark James (and the other senior officers in the council) to meet with me and other employers in the area to discuss what the council can do to support us.
I would hope that they would be able to offer a similar level of support to that which they (the council) showed in backing the Sainsbury's plan.
But can the leopard change its spots?