In response to the news that John Lewis Aberdeen will not be reopening its doors as CV19 restrictions ease, Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said:

“This is sad news. Not just for the 265 partners that worked at John Lewis but for Aberdeen city centre and the North-east of Scotland and it threatens to overshadow the announcement of the North Sea Transition deal that will see Aberdeen at the heart of delivering the new energy technologies that will enable our move to net zero, retaining and creating thousands of high value jobs for decades to come.

“Aberdeen is Scotland’s third city and a recent report tells us that our residents have the highest net disposable income of any city in the UK based on high average salaries and reasonable cost of living. There is still an appetite for the real life bricks and mortar shopping experience and our offer to John Lewis is that they should engage with the Aberdeen economic partnership to discuss whether there may be ways found to enable them to reconsider this decision.

“Cities are a finely balanced eco-system of retail, culture, hospitality, residential and offices with people at their heart. If any of them are out of kilter then the others are likely to fail. Changing retail habits were already threatening this and we warned last year that the approach being taken in managing covid with so-called ‘non-essential’ office closures, massive restrictions on hospitality and the ongoing ban on live events would spell the death knell for these business eco systems and today’s news sadly seems to bear this out.

“The High Streets & Town Centres in 2030 report by Sir John Timpson in 2018 concluded: ‘Unless urgent action is taken, we fear that further deterioration, loss of visitors and dereliction may lead to some high streets and town centres disappearing altogether.’ Some forecasts at the time warned that we would lose a further 30% of bricks and mortar retail in the next 10 years. Some experts are now suggesting that timeline could be accelerated fivefold in the aftermath of CV-19.

“Decisions being taken now could see our town and city centres, places that should be the beating heart of our communities, become urban deserts of the future. We must not allow this to happen.

“It's vital that our governments take decisive action now. Current policy seems to be indicating a shift to ‘20-minute neighbourhoods’ but this must not be at the expense of our cities. It makes the welcome news of a revitalised Aberdeen city centre masterplan even more pivotal in creating the projects, confidence and conditions that will ensure our city goes from strength to strength.

“And the Chambers of Commerce in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh are working with partners to publish Urban AGE II, a report designed to demonstrate the pivotal role our three major cities will play in Scotland’s economic recovery and the support and conditions they will need to succeed, with real life retail at their hearts.”

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