John Lewis chiefs say they have no plans to convert the former Aberdeen branch into housing – despite pledging to build 10,000 homes across the UK in the next few years.
The chain, which confirmed last week it will not be reopening its flagship store on George Street, announced ambitious proposals to move into the residential housing market at several sites across the UK.
However, bosses have now revealed the Aberdeen site will not be included in the scheme.
The move raises questions over the future of the 200,000 square-foot building, and has led to fears it could be “left to rot”.
A spokesman for John Lewis said the high street giant is continuing to “look at options” for the future of the site, which was the last remaining department store in the north-east, but it is not yet clear what those options are.
The lack of clarity on the future of the site has led to concerns that it could be unoccupied for a long period of time, and could become a target for anti-social behaviour.
Empty unit ‘disastrous’ for city
Former Aberdeen City Council co-leader and north-east MSP Douglas Lumsden said the building lying empty would be “disastrous” for the city centre.
“This decision highlights that John Lewis just wants the site sold but it’s vital this reflects the needs of our city centre masterplan,” he said.
“It’s likely a range of occupiers would have to fill the building due to the size of the site.
“If this cannot be done then knocking the building down and starting again would have to be considered.
“The key issue is that the site isn’t left to rot as that would be disastrous for our long-term plans for the city centre.
“I will continue to hold discussions with John Lewis to ensure everything is done to address this.”
‘Opportunity’ for site after store closure
Local planning experts previously told us they believed it would be possible to convert the building into housing.
Dr Maggie Bochel, the former head of planning at Aberdeen City Council and now a director of consultancy firm Aurora, said she would like to see the “unique” building retained rather than demolishing it.
Conservative MSP Liam Kerr said the closure was an “opportunity” for the site to become the “heartbeat of George Street”.
“Every city is having to transition into new ideas and Aberdeen is no different which is why the future use of the site must reflect this,” he said.
“But what can’t happen is for the building to become a city centre version of the Broadford Works which was repeatedly vandalised, putting lives at risk in the process.
“John Lewis has assured me there will be round-the-clock security, but a building of that size presents so many dangers if people manage to get inside.
“The site forms such a prominent space in Aberdeen and it’s vital it becomes the heartbeat of George Street again which is why this is a great opportunity to think outside the box.”