City leaders have called on Sir Ian Wood to lead a newly announced taskforce in an effort to keep John Lewis in Aberdeen.
In a letter, seen by the Press and Journal, Aberdeen Central MSP Kevin Stewart said he believes the oil and gas tycoon would be “the ideal candidate” to lead the group – which would include the Scottish Government, Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce.
But Sir Ian’s economic development company Opportunity north East (One) – while backing the effort – appeared to decline the invitation to lead it.
The high street retail giant announced on Tuesday it would permanently close its Aberdeen department store, which will result in the loss of 265 jobs.
However, despite the George Street retail space being under threat of closure, John Lewis management has suggested “neutral taskforce” could be formed.
Its mandate would look at ways the retail firm could retain a “presence” in Aberdeen.
In his letter to Sir Ian, Mr Stewart said: “There is no doubt that, as things stand, John Lewis will close their George Street premises and leave Aberdeen.
“However, John Lewis has indicated that they may join a neutral taskforce led by an independent person or group with the remit to establish all possible opportunities to see if it is possible to maintain a John Lewis presence in the city.
“This remit would clearly have a substantial impact on the future of the city centre of Aberdeen and has the potential to lead to meaningful action in terms of a vision for our city.
“Any proposals brought forward will by no means guarantee that John Lewis remains in Aberdeen, but it is vital we ensure that a decision is not reached without such an expansive process of engagement.”
A number of alternative proposals to keep the upmarket retail firm in Aberdeen have been proposed – such as a smaller retail space in the city centre and the potential for a Waitrose food market to be added to the George Street space.
However, footfall in Aberdeen city centre has fallen to a low of 62% since the introduction of the Covid-19 lockdown in March.
An Opportunity North East spokesman described the proposed closure of the John Lewis store as “extremely disappointing development” which has caused “significant and widespread concern across the region”.
He added: “We understand that a range of partners, including Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, Aberdeen City Council and the Scottish Government, are already engaging with John Lewis to assess any viable options.
“Opportunity North East is willing to play an active role in the discussions going forward but these organisations are best placed to lead these efforts and have our full support.”