Company’s decision to stay is step in right direction

Part of a painting by Bill Montague depicting the chaos at Dunkirk

LESLEY KEATING: I wish I’d asked dad about Dunkirk – but it’s too late

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For a city still reeling over the loss of shipbuilding – amongst job losses in other industries – the decision by John Lewis to keep its store in Southsea is a small but nevertheless welcome boost.

The announcement may not create hundreds of jobs or provide a multimillion pound fillip.

But the closure of Knight & Lee – a store which has had a presence in Southsea since 1931 – would have been another blow at a time when Portsmouth is still trying to get back on its feet following BAE’s decision to end its shipbuilding operation in the city.

Fears had been growing that the end was nigh for Knight & Lee in light of plans for John Lewis – along with Marks & Spencer – to be one of the anchor stores for the Northern Quarter project.

Fortunately, those concerns have now been allayed, providing a boost to the local economy and safeguarding jobs at the store, while creating more in the future.

What does remain up in the air, however, is exactly where this decision leaves John Lewis’ plans to open up a bigger store in the Northern Quarter.

After plenty of doubting and delays over the proposal to revamp the former Tricorn Centre site in Portsmouth, the project was given a shot in the arm towards the end of last year when Centros – developer behind the multimillion pound shops and homes scheme – said there was now enough demand for it to go ahead.

The key to Northern Quarter getting off the ground, however, has always been a major retail player opening up a store to give shoppers a genuine reason not to have to travel to WestQuay in Southampton.

Back in 2008, John Lewis told The News: ‘Good times and bad times come and go, but when the Northern Quarter opens, we’ll be there.’

In light of Knight & Lee staying open, the company are keeping quiet over whether they will stay true to their word.

But having provided the city with a welcome lift, we can only hope this is a step in the right direction to giving us another good-news story in the not-too distant future.