Opinion: ‘Why John Lewis closure won’t halt city growth’

Peterborough MP Paul Bristow writes his regular column for the Peterborough Telegraph...

Sunday, 4th April 2021, 5:00 am
John Lewis

The John Lewis Partnership’s announcement that its Peterborough store will close is an unwelcome decision.

I got a call from the partnership’s chairman, Dame Sharon White, shortly after staff were informed. I wasn’t impressed.

I’d repeatedly pressed her office in recent months and been told there was no news about Peterborough.

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This is a short-sighted and premature decision. Our branch has only recently had a multi-million pound refit. When I asked for her reasons, it was clear that the partnership see this as a done deal.

The company is determined to pursue an online route, away from traditional retail. It’s only interested in physical stores in a select number of busy, high-spending locations.

Unlike Labour, who seem only too keen to write off and talk down Peterborough, I still feel we have a positive future.

Therefore, we need to act, so I’ve convened a task force meeting with Peterborough City Council, Queensgate Shopping Centre, Opportunity Peterborough Peterborough Positive and the Towns Fund board.

We have developed a series of asks for further meetings with the chair, Dame Sharon White, on the save John Lewis petition and their consultation with staff.

We are also working on a promotion and communications plan to support the reopening of city centre retail and hospitality on April 12. And a programme of support, retraining and advice to partners and staff is also needed.

We also have plenty of investment and opportunities coming our way. The Towns Fund money is just one part of the positive future for Peterborough.

I am already encouraged by the local response and the can-do attitude that typifies it.

Scores of businesses have already said they are coming, or have expressed an interest in coming, to Peterborough. Many are attracted to the prime Queensgate site, which should be further boosted by the new cinema. Others are building new units and sites across the city.

We may have to diversify in this online age, but there is still a place for physical shops and leisure activities.

After a year spent mostly trapped at home, there may even be a resurgence.

Although the announcement was a blow and we all wanted a different outcome, Peterborough remains a city on the up.

The Government is backing us. Our Conservative city council has exciting plans. New jobs, homes, businesses and even a new university are on their way.

Lockdown restrictions started to lift this week. Perhaps it’s just because the sun has been out, but I’ve sensed a new, optimistic mood. We deserve a feel-good spring after everything we’ve been through together.

When our shops and restaurants can open their doors again, we know what to do. Just as the country will thrive again when we leave lockdown, so will Peterborough.

We just need to stick together, work together and continue what we have started. What matters isn’t a setback along the way... the thing that matters is the direction in which we are headed.