Shopping centre boss warns over John Lewis store bid

IPSWICH: The manager of the town’s largest shopping centre has warned that a decision to allow John Lewis to build a store on the former Crane site in Nacton Road would damage the heart of Ipswich.

Colin Roberts is manager of the Buttermarket Centre and is facing the prospect of seeing his largest single unit being boarded up when TJ Hughes shuts up shop on Thursday.

The administrators of the Liverpool-based chain announced the closure last week.

It will be the second town centre department store to close in Ipswich in just over a year following the closure of the Vergo store – previously the Co-op – last July.

Mr Roberts said the owners of the Buttermarket Centre were talking to agents about trying to find a new tenant for the unit, but there was nothing concrete at present.

He said: “If John Lewis opens up at Crane it will be very bad news – you would not get them interested in this site here and it would be a real blow for the town centre.”

The department store in the centre is spread over four floors and had a floorspace of 120,000 square feet. That fell to 105,000 square feet when TK Maxx expanded – but TJ Hughes only ever used two of the four floors.

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Mr Roberts said there were only a limited number of operators who might be interested in such a large unit and the centre owners might have to look at other uses for some or all of the store, possibly leisure or even residential use.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said he felt John Lewis should be given the chance to come to Nacton Road. “I think it would be a shame to make the perfect the enemy of the good,” he said. “It is clear John Lewis does not want a town centre department store but an At Home store on the edge of town and I think most people would welcome that.”

Paul Clement from Ipswich Central said his group had not yet had formed a view about the proposed new John Lewis At Home store. He said: “We shall look at the plans and make representations at the planning stage – but at this stage we only know what we have read in your newspaper!”

n Would the new John Lewis store damage the town centre? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk