Knight & Lee could be converted into homes as John Lewis confirms sale to property developers
FEARS for the future of the historic Knight & Lee departure store in Southsea have been raised as John Lewis confirmed it had been sold to property developers.
Following the announcement that the shop will be closing this July, with 127 jobs lost, it was then revealed that its freehold had been sold to ‘urban regenerators’ That Group.
A spokesman for the company said: ‘Whilst it is regrettable that a pillar of the local retail community and a key landmark in the Southsea retail offer will be closing, we are very excited at the prospect of converting and restoring such a well-loved building into something suitable for the future.
‘Southsea is a fantastic location to put into practice some of our latest mixed development ideas and we look forward to sharing these with local people in due course.’
The company specialises in mixed-use developments and already has permission for an 18-storey tower block on the corner of Commercial Road and Station Street.
He added: ‘We will not be announcing today our exact plans for the building, but these will follow in a short time, as part of a thorough and sensitive public and neighbour consultation process.
‘We have already worked in the city of Portsmouth so we know it well, and we have always found the council (and other stakeholders) to be welcoming of our investment and open to new ideas.’
The council's regeneration boss, Councillor Ben Dowling, was hopeful the site could be used for more than homes.’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. ‘We must protect at least the ground floor of the store for retail,’ she said.
‘I am extremely concerned that it could all just be used for homes.’
The John Lewis partnership stated that selling the site was the most viable option for the company. Dino Rocos, partner and operations director for John Lewis, said: ‘We have not taken this decision lightly and we considered every implication for our Partners, customers and the community.
‘However, a unique combination of factors, including the significant investment required and the opportunity to sell the property freehold, makes this the right decision for the financial sustainability of our business.’
The Palmerston Road shop was founded by Jesse Knight and Herbert Soden Lee in 1887. It has been a John Lewis store since 1940.