John Lewis poses dilemma for town

SHOULD John Lewis be allowed to build an “At Home” store alongside a Waitrose on the site of the former Crane factory in Nacton Road?

There are now two empty department store buildings in the town centre – one of which has been empty for a year – and little apparent hope of anyone moving into them.

So is it really sensible to allow a company which has made its name as a department store operator to open out-of-town?

I can understand the frustration of Buttermarket Centre manager Colin Roberts who sees his largest tenant disappearing and an obvious replacement seeking to open a store a couple of miles away from the town centre.

However I’m not convinced that turning down the John Lewis proposal would be such a wise move.

John Lewis has already had two opportunities to come to Ipswich – when the Buttermarket Centre was first built in 1992 and when Allders closed in 2005.

On both occasions it turned down the opportunity to become part of the shopping centre and there is no indication that it would be interested in moving into what is now a smaller unit there today.

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The former Co-op store in Carr Street is larger – but inside it was always very “traditional” with more than a hint of Grace Brothers about it. Is that really what a modern retailer wants in the 21st century?

With the rise of stores like Next and Monsoon at one end of the market and Primark and Peacocks at the other I’m not sure a town like Ipswich can sustain another traditional department store – Debenhams seems to do well while Marks & Spencer and BHS always seem to be pretty busy.

With Coes expanding in Norwich Road I can’t really see that there is a pressing need for another town centre department store – so from that point of view I can see the logic of allowing a John Lewis At Home store to open in Nacton Road.

It would certainly be an advantage to have John Lewis somewhere in town for their range of furniture, homewares and electrical goods.

Hopefully new uses will be found for the two empty department stores – but all in all I can’t help feeling that their presence should not prevent John Lewis from coming to Nacton Road. That is a development which could be a boost for the whole town and should not be spurned.