Belfast city centre not feasible for John Lewis store, say ex-boss Hampson
The former chairman of John Lewis has said the retailer needs an out-of-town location such as Sprucefield to accommodate the larger-sized store and increased traffic which a development in Northern Ireland would bring.
Sir Stuart Hampson, who is chair of the Crown Estate and chaired John Lewis for 14 years until 2007, said a location in Belfast city centre isn't feasible.
"The difficulty is the size," he said on a visit to Belfast. "It's a purely physical point. John Lewis builds stores which are much bigger than the House of Fraser one (in Belfast city centre) because that's the model it has."
"John Lewis only sells in areas with a very large catchment population and needs to have good access and good car parking. That's why we've always said we need to have an out-of-town store."
He said he was surprised at the difficulty the company has had in trying to get planning permission for a store at Sprucefield.
After years of delay, it withdrew its store application in January after then Environment Minister Alex Attwood limited the goods sold to "bulky items".
"I came over here 10 years ago as chair of John Lewis and thought we'd soon be opening but we still haven't," Sir Richard said.
"I've been speaking to some of the directors and they're hugely frustrated. They'd love to be here in Northern Ireland, would bring a great deal to the retail mix and there would be many suppliers who'd be pleased to see John Lewis here."
Opponents of a John Lewis store at Sprucefield include traders in Belfast who believe trade would be drawn away from the city if it were given the go-ahead.
They point to a document, revealed by The Belfast Telegraph in August, drawn up by Department of Environment officials which claims Belfast city centre will lose £70m if John Lewis opens at Sprucefield.
A statement from John Lewis at the time said the report appeared to paint a very inaccurate picture and "massively exaggerates" the impact on Belfast and other areas.
Meanwhile, the DUP has confirmed it intends to approach John Lewis again if new fast-track planning powers are included in Stormont legislation later this year.