Fears have been raised that George Street is being knowingly undersold – as John Lewis, the area’s largest retailer, cements plans to close in Aberdeen.
A major blow to a city’s high street already on the ropes, the news came despite the efforts of leading council figures and business lobbyists to convince the retail giant to stay.
As many as 265 jobs are being consulted on as a result of the closure, which follows the likes of Debenhams, Dorothy Perkins and Topshop in shutting up shop in the last year.
Council chiefs vowed to include the area in a multi-million-pound refresh of the city centre and Aberdeen beach coming out of the pandemic – but, as the end of a much-publicised consultation on the work nears, concerns are being raised George Street could be left behind.
The area is not mentioned in the masterplan consultation, which asks residents to allocate points prioritising different parts of Aberdeen needing sprucing up.
However, Union Street; the West End; Schoolhill, Upperkirkgate and Belmont Street; Castlegate; and the beach are all name-checked.
Local SNP councillor Michael Hutchison said: “The confirmation that John Lewis is closing underlines why we need George Street to be included in the masterplan.
“It’s concerning that the council are consulting on the masterplan while George Street has been completely excluded from that main consultation.
“I understand that there is a need to move ahead with the masterplan at pace but we have situation where a large part of the city centre has been excluded for the sake of two weeks.
“Are we now going to have George Street included in the masterplan without consultation or will George Street need to wait even longer to be added in?”
John Lewis talks on workers’ future stopped George Street consultation
Last week council resources director, Steve Whyte, told councillors George Street had been omitted due to the statutory consultation ongoing at John Lewis but promised officers would “make reference” to the area when proposals were put to members in August.
It is also understood that even now a final decision has been taken by the department store chain, a George Street section cannot be added to the public poll without losing answers from thousands of people.
“Nevertheless,” said council masterplan spokeswoman Marie Boulton, “respondents have the ability to leave comments with regard to the store.”
“Officers will continue to work through the preparation of the report to the city growth and resources committee, reflecting the various comments that have been submitted including those on George Street.
“There has been a huge response with over 6,000 respondents and the results will be reflected within the final report along with commentary around the George Street area.
“It will ultimately be for the council to decide what further consultation will be undertaken in relation to the George Street area.”