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EXCLUSIVE: Glimmer of hope in bid to keep retail giant John Lewis in Aberdeen

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Retail giant John Lewis is prepared to reimagine its presence in the north of Scotland following crunch talks over the future of its only store in the region.

The Evening Express has learned its existing 200,000-square-foot store on George Street will not reopen as it is too big for the partnership’s needs.

However, bosses at the retailer are willing to explore other options, including the possibility of opening a Waitrose with a smaller John Lewis included at another city centre site.

A taskforce set up in a bid to keep the partnership in the city – including council chiefs and local business leaders – met senior officials earlier today.

The group includes council administration leaders Douglas Lumsden, Jenny Laing and Marie Boulton, as well as Russell Borthwick and Adrian Watson, the chief executives of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce and the business improvement district Aberdeen Inspired.

Talks are at a very early stage, but they are understood to have put forward a case highlighting the strength of the economy in the north of Scotland, as well as the fact the Aberdeen store is the retail giant’s only branch north of the central belt.

In a statement, the taskforce said: “We welcomed the opportunity to meet and build on the dialogue with the John Lewis Partnership in the days following the announcement and shared the strong feelings members of our communities have regarding the proposed plans for closure, and to confirm the support of the wider business community in the city and region.

“The immediate priority for the John Lewis Partnership is its engagement and consultation with its staff. Once that process is complete, we agreed to continue to work with John Lewis on its next steps.

“We took the opportunity of the meeting to provide an update on the significant investments being made in the city region including the City Region Deal, the Aberdeen Harbour South Expansion, the City Centre Masterplan investments and, more recently, the support from the UK Government and Scottish Government around energy transition.

“We also provided an update on the council’s £150 million budget commitment this month to city centre regeneration.

“We discussed the challenging trading environment and shift to online channels that the retail sector now operates within.

“While that may mean that the proposal to close the Aberdeen store is implemented, we confirmed our support to the John Lewis Partnership as it assesses any potential new business models in the Aberdeen catchment.”

Further talks with the retail partnership are set to follow, while the taskforce will also be seeking support from the UK and Scottish Governments.

They will also write to political leaders asking them to put together support packages for Aberdeen following May’s Scottish Parliament elections.

A petition calling on John Lewis to rethink the decision to close the store had attracted nearly 24,000 signatures at the time of writing.

The taskforce added in their statement: “Collectively we agreed to continue to work together and with other stakeholders to build on the conversation with John Lewis. We will seek assurances from the Scottish Government around any financial aid to help retain a John Lewis store in the city and protect jobs.

“We agreed to write to the political leads of the major parties asking them what they intend to do to support Aberdeen should they form a government after the May election.

“The 23,000-signature petition highlights the strength of feeling from citizens to John Lewis to maintain links with the city and its north of Scotland presence. After today’s meeting with John Lewis, we will continue to work with the Scottish Government and the Scottish Cities Alliance as they develop their Covid-19 cities’ recovery plans for long term.”

A spokeswoman for John Lewis said: “We are incredibly grateful for the support our shop has received – the strength of feeling underlines what a difficult decision proposing to close has been.

“Our priority now is to fully support our partners working at the Aberdeen shop through the consultation process.”