A CONTROVERSIAL new Co-operative food store has opened in Christchurch, with the owners pledging to “support the area’s community spirit.”

The Co-op has been built on the site of the former Fairmile pub and sparked objections from local traders and residents, who claimed it could put local shops out of business and increase traffic congestion.

But the new £750,000 store did not need planning permission and was opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday.

Children from Christchurch Infant School joined manager Richard Gallop at the launch.

The store has created 18 jobs and includes an in-store bakery, fresh produce, ready meals, pizzas, beers, wines and spirits.

Staff are being trained to give advice and help inspire customers with meal ideas.

Mr Gallop said: “Local residents are passionate about food and we are delighted to be creating a shopping experience to take this into account, providing ideas whatever time of day they visit.

“As a co-operative, the store will support the area’s community spirit. Customers will be able to find out what is going on locally and learn about the Co-op’s Community Fund.”