A taskforce set up to save Aberdeen’s John Lewis store will “do everything” to ensure it stays in the city centre, the co-leader of the city council has said.
Douglas Lumsden – along with fellow administration leaders Jenny Laing and Marie Boulton and north-east business chiefs Adrian Watson and Russell Borthwick – is part of a group set up after the high street giant announced its intention to close its northernmost outlet.
It is understood the current 200,000-square-foot site is unlikely to reopen as it is too big for the partnership’s needs.
However, other possibilities such as opening a smaller branch alongside a Waitrose store at another city centre location.
“We have got to invest more into our city centre to recover from the pandemic,” Mr Lumsden said.
“If it does close we will work hard to try and replace John Lewis, but it’s a tough task.
“It’s at an early stage but if there is to be another store, we will be doing everything we can to ensure that’s in the city centre.
“What we don’t want to see is another out-of-town store. We want to be bringing more things into our city centre.
“That would tie in with our policy of encouraging people to live and work in the city centre. It’s all part of our strategy to improve the city.
“We want people to be in the city centre. We want people to be living there, working there and shopping there so we will be doing everything we can to keep John Lewis in the city.”
Meanwhile, Liam Kerr – the Scottish Conservatives’ candidate for Aberdeen South and North Kincardine at the upcoming Holyrood election – urged John Lewis to ensure it has an “exit strategy” in place if it does quit George Street.
Mr Kerr met with executives earlier this week to urge them to sell or rent out the building if they choose to leave, and said the building could turn into “another Broadford Works” if a proper strategy is not implemented.
“No one wants John Lewis to close – it would be absolutely catastrophic for George Street and Aberdeen as a whole,” Mr Kerr said.
“But if John Lewis follows through with this then there needs to be a suitable exit plan for the building – it can’t be left to rot for years to come.
“During the meeting, I raised this with them and going forward I will continue to regularly liaise with the company on what it’s doing to help staff as well as safeguarding the future of the building.
“My concern is it could turn into the new Broadford Works which would be horrendous for the area and something nobody wants to see.
“Aberdeen City Council has done brilliantly to work with the owners of the factory site to ensure it’s redeveloped, putting a stop to the spate of dangerous fires that we had been accustomed to over the years.
“But we don’t want to see a repeat of another abandoned building and lives being put at risk because that’s the possible consequences which may occur if John Lewis doesn’t come up with a proper exit strategy.”
A spokeswoman for John Lewis said: “While we appreciate Mr Kerr’s concerns, we have made clear to him – as we did in our initial public statement – that we take our responsibilities in respect of our George Street building very seriously and intend to ensure that it continues to play a productive role in the civic life of Aberdeen.
“Nonetheless, right now and for the next few weeks our attention is focused solely on the people-related aspects of our closure proposal, rather than with any property related concerns. Supporting our partners through the consultation process is our number one priority.”
SNP candidate Audrey Nicoll, who is standing directly against Mr Kerr, said his intervention did “not seem wise”.
She said: “This all seems a bit premature given that Mr Kerr’s council colleagues are currently in talks with John Lewis around what can be done to ensure they stay in Aberdeen.
“It simply does not seem wise to distract from these discussions and we all need to be doing all we can to ensure John Lewis stay here.”