John Lewis pull out of Preston revamp

The artist's inpressions of Tithebarn
The artist's inpressions of Tithebarn
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Preston’s £700m revamp plan has been ripped up and will be replaced by a scaled-down development,

John Lewis has pulled the plug on a huge department store on the site of the bus station, blaming the economic climate and the proposed job losses at BAE Systems.

It means the Tithebarn plans, the centre of a multi-million pound public inquiry last summer, will never come to fruition.

A new bus station will not be built on the junction of Manchester Road and Church Street, and alternatives are being considered, including an interchange closer to the railway station.

Today, Preston Council leader Peter Rankin, said is was a “massive disappointment”, but said Australian developer Lend Lease was still on board.

The Evening Post understands Marks and Spencer, the second anchor tenant, is still keen on having a larger store in the city centre.

Preston MP Mark Hendrick said the BAE jobs were an “excuse” for John Lewis pulling out, and other politicians said they were not surprised by the collapse. BAE declined to comment.

Crunch talks are now taking place over exactly how Preston will be improved, but many questions remain unanswered, including the future of the existing bus station.

Coun Rankin said: “They (John Lewis) told us, because of the economic circumstances the country is in, they’ve reassessed and, for them, the final straw was the redundancies at BAE and they’ve decided they can’t come to Preston.

“I would like to say to the people of Preston we’re moving on from Tithebarn, there are other possibilities that we’re investigating.

“We still want to develop that Tithebarn area. We want to see something happening within the next couple of years.

“Everything is being explored. I personally would like to draw a line under Tithebarn and say ‘that was then, let’s move on’.

“Lend Lease is working with us to rethink the proposals for Preston city centre, and together we are exploring how best to achieve the city’s ambitions to offer a wider range of quality shopping, more leisure and mixed use of the city centre including new offices and homes.”

He said the council had been talking to Lend Lease about a “smaller scheme” since the successful High Court appeal hearing in June.

Richard Coppell, development director for Lend Lease, said: “While we are disappointed that Preston Tithebarn is not going ahead as originally planned, this is unsurprising given the market backdrop.

“The tough economic climate and John Lewis Partnership’s decision not to come to the city centre means that the scheme’s design needs to change.

“Lend Lease remains the city’s development partner and we are continuing to work closely with the council to help Preston achieve its ambitions.”

A spokesman for John Lewis said: “John Lewis can confirm it has withdrawn from discussions with Lend Lease on the Tithebarn development.”

Preston Council chief executive Lorraine Norris said it was a “turning point”, but said: “There are still opportunities, and what we’ve got to do is find the best way to convert those opportunities into real development. The work has already started, and I think the good news for Preston is we’ve got raw material to work with, we’ve got a lot to offer.”

For more on this story read Thursday’s Lancashire Evening Post