Sainsbury caught City analysts by surprise with this week's announcement that it is to become a major player in the property development market. The change of direction comes weeks after the retailer put DIY arm Homebase on the market saying it wanted to concentrate on its core business. Sainsbury's planned disposal of the successful stand-alone Homebase brand caused City speculation that it was gearing up to put itself on the market. An analyst from Credit Lyonnais said of the developments: "I can't recall a UK chain going into a new area on such a broad scale so suddenly. "But given the sorry state of the group I expect they have taken the steps to maximise shareholder value. "It won't raise the share price for a few months, but it does show fertile minds are very active in the boardroom." Ian Coull, Sainsbury's group property director said that by exploiting its £4.5bn property portfolio across the UK it hoped to raise £300m over the next four years, as well as saving £35m annually in capital expenditure. Sainsbury has already raised £566m this year by selling stores and leasing them back. The retailer owns the freehold of 65% of one of the largest corporate property portfolios in Britain, but historically the property function was only used to identify and develop new sites. Sainsbury is already seeking planning permission to add a hotel, residential and leisure complex to the store at Nine Elms in London. {{NEWS }}