Counting the cost of a John Lewis exit from Peterborough
A question mark hangs over about 400 jobs at John Lewis in Peterborough as bosses ponder the viability of the store that has been at the heart of the city for 39 years.
But business and civic leaders also fear a wider impact to the city centre economy if the much-loved department store is permanently closed.
Yet they know retaining the store, which opened on the same day as the Queensgate centre 39 years ago this month, can no longer be taken for granted.
Under a battering from surging online sales, lockdown closures and big bills for business rates and rents, the future for the retail behemoth is no longer assured.
Announcing a £517 million loss for last year, John Lewis warned it did not expect to open all its 42 stores when the current lockdown ends for non-essential retailers on April 12.
It says an announcement on stores closures will come before the end of the month but its own figures do not add up to much joy for stores in malls like Queensgate.
They show that when shops were allowed to reopen last summer, shopping centres saw the steepest decline in visitor numbers – a fall of 48 per cent – compared to those in retail parks, high streets and standalones.
John Bridge, chief executive of Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, said: “It is the rhetoric behind the pandemic that is frightening people from using public transport that takes them to shopping centres like Queensgate.
“More people are working from home and so are not visiting city centre shops.
“We do need to find a way to reverse this trend.
“Quality offerings like John Lewis are recognised as the key factor in attracting shoppers to a city centre – more so even than low car parking charges.
“Peterborough still needs a vibrant city centre and for that we need to make it a high quality destination. If John Lewis goes, what do we fill the space with?
“We should be looking at a business rates reform. The current system is not fit for purpose given the changes facing bricks and mortar retailers.”
Peterborough MP Paul Bristow said: “John Lewis is the anchor of the Queensgate centre. It has a great future backed by the Government’s Towns Fund, which will bring the regeneration of the Station Quarter and North Westgate, alongside our new university.”
Tom Hennessy, chief executive of Opportunity Peterborough, said: “It’s a huge asset for the city’s retail offer and a fantastic employer, so we really want to see the store open its doors to customers again. We are supporting all efforts to work with key decision-makers to see the store re-open.”