Last week, the news was announced that the John Lewis branch in Southsea- Knight & Lee, had been sold and will close in July. This will be the first closure by John Lewis since 2006 with the reason cited by the company as a reduction in profits due to an ailing high street, as well as a small building with a lack of an ability to be modernised.
All of these factors contributed to a decision to sell the store to THAT Group – a company based on the south coast of England which styles itself as a company of “Urban regenerators and building aficionados”.
Knight & Lee first opened in 1874 with John Lewis taking over management in the 1930s. Its closure will result in 127 jobs being lost, although the retailer has committed to helping all staff being made redundant work in other local John Lewis and Waitrose Stores.
Partner and operations director, Dino Rocos, has stated that, “We have not taken this decision lightly and we considered every implication for our partners, customers and the community.”
“However, a unique combination of factors, including the significant investment required and the opportunity to sell the property freehold, makes this the right decision for the financial sustainability of our business.”
The news that the store had been sold prompted an earnest public response. Local Labour MP, Stephen Morgan asked a question to the prime minister in Wednesday PMQ’s what her plan is to safeguard Britain’s high streets. He also put out a statement saying, “This cannot be another nail in the coffin for Palmerston Road. Knight & Lee has been an anchor store for decades. Bringing people locally and further afield to our area, we mustn’t let this business decision rip the heart of Southsea and affect the independent stores Southsea is famous for. I will continue to press ministers and the shadow team for action. We need action, and we need it fast”.
The reduction in footfall on High Streets up and down the country is a phenomena which has only become more and more serious. The British Retail Consortium published research which found that 2018 was been the worst Christmas for retailers for over 10 years.
To combat this, the Government announced in the autumn budget that from April 2019 the business rates for commercial properties would be cut from a third to 90%. Also announced was a £675 million fund to invest in improvements to town centre infrastructure, reduce congestion, support redevelopment around high streets and enable housing and new workspaces to be created.
A public presentation by THAT Group is due to be held on Monday February 25th when they shall be displaying plans for the building at Southsea Library between 4pm-7.45pm. In a leaflet distributed to residents, they highlight that the plans include a public workspace, breakout space, event spaces and pop up spaces on the ground floor with room for small businesses. Further information can be found at www.thatgroup-southsea.co.uk