Knight & Lee closure: ‘We must not let this business decision rip the heart out of Southsea’ – councillors vow to protect city’s high streets

POLITICIANS are united in their pledge to protect the city's high streets, and have refused to let the Knight & Lee closure 'rip the heart out of Southsea.'

Wednesday, 23rd January 2019, 2:49 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 6:40 pm
Knight and Lee in Palmerston Road, Southsea Picture: Habibur Rahman

John Lewis today announced it would be closing its Palmerston Road department store in July, a move that will see 127 jobs lost.

The site has been sold to property developers That Group, which has several other projects in the city, including the Guildhall Ice Rink and two new tower blocks in Commercial Road that were green lit last year.

Plans came as a shock to council bosses, who were unaware the store faced difficulties.

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Knight and Lee in Palmerston Road, Southsea Picture: Habibur Rahman

City council leader, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said: 'I'm incredibly disappointed that John Lewis didn't come to talk to the council about this previously to discuss options going forward.

'When I am in there it is always heaving so I don't understand why John Lewis has made this decision.'

But he was determined the council would be involved in the next steps.

'What the council needs to do now is work with John Lewis to provide them somewhere else to be within Portsmouth because they are a very important part of the retail offer in the city,' he said.

'In terms of the new development on the site, the ground floor will have to be used for retail as part of the conditions.'

Cllr Ben Dowling, the council's regeneration boss, added: ’We have asked the owners of That Group to come and talk to us as a matter of urgency about how they hope to move forward with the site.

‘We will try to work with them and the local community to reach a positive outcome that benefits residents and the high street.’

Tory leader, Cllr Donna Jones, agreed. 'I was absolutely gutted to hear this,' she said. 'This is extremely worrying news.

'Knight & Lee is a key anchor store in the city and for Southsea. It draws in lots of customers who then also use many of the independent shops in the area.

'The council needs to use every power it's got to make sure that it is not easily converted into a residential property.'

Portsmouth South MP and councillor Stephen Morgan also asked the developers to involve the community. 'This cannot be another nail in the coffin for Palmerston Road,' he said.

'Knight & Lee has been an anchor store for decades that brings people locally and further afield to our area. We must not let this business decision rip the heart out of Southsea and affect the independent stores and vibrancy Southsea is famous for.

'I have requested information about the new owners of the site and will be contacting them to make sure they take on board the community views. It's important they hear from the people of Portsmouth our strength of feeling about the decline of our high streets following today’s devastating news for Southsea.'