John Lewis closes door on request to move into abandoned Tesco store
Retailer John Lewis has dashed hopes that it could set up shop in an abandoned new-build Tesco in Armagh.
Work is continuing on what was to become a Tesco in the city, despite the supermarket's decision last week to abandon 49 stores in progress around the UK, including Armagh and Carryduff, Co Down.
The supermarket is taking drastic measures to reverse two years of disappointing sales and a slide in consumer affections, by halting its expansion in the UK and overseas.
It is also closing 43 "under-performing stores" and shutting its final salary pension scheme.
Armagh Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Speers said the city will "reach out" to UK retailer John Lewis to open in the Alexander Road premises, which are being finished off by developer Turkington under its original deal with Tesco.
"The store is available and if any of the big multiples would take it, I'd certainly be glad."
John Lewis had found a site at Sprucefield outside Lisburn, but after a prolonged planning wrangle which began in 2005, the employee-owned business said it was withdrawing its plans altogether.
Mr Speers said: "John Lewis would be a real prize for Armagh, and is there any better place for it?
"It has been the subject of so much division in Belfast, but having it in Armagh could be a great reconciler."
However, the retailer said: "This location in Armagh would not be of interest to John Lewis." Members of Armagh City and District Council met Tesco corporate affairs manager Richard Holligan yesterday to discuss what may become of the site.
Mr Holligan said: "I was able to reassure them that works would continue in line with the planning consent. The shell of the building is scheduled to be completed by April 17.
"We would like to work with the council and the community to find the best solution for the building becoming occupied."
He said the site would be kept in a fit state and patrolled 24 hours a day to prevent vandalism.
A council spokeswoman said it had set up a working group to ensure future use of the site was in line with the city masterplan.
Further speculation had suggested that value retailer Asda could also take the site, but a spokeswoman said it had "no current plans" for Armagh.
German discount retailer Aldi, which has stores in the Republic and Britain, said it had no plans to open in Northern Ireland "at present".
Story so far
Tesco has operated here since 1996, when it acquired the business of Stewarts and Crazy Prices. Its expansion has been relentless, and it now has around 57 stores, including nearly 20 convenience Tesco Express. Tesco has now responded to falling sales - and the embarrassment of a £263m overstatement of its accounts last year - with plans to close 49 stores and abandon 43 new ones, including at Armagh and Carryduff. Two Tesco stores in England have been converted into Sports Direct outlets - although that company already has a presence in Armagh, through sister brand SportsWorld.