John Lewis gets green light to convert part of London flagship to offices
John Lewis has won the planning permission it wanted to allow it to convert almost half of its Oxford Street, London, flagship store into office space as part of its new strategy to return to sustainable profits.
The multi-level megastore will be shrunk down to reflect the new normal in which footfall to shops in general continues to drop and the company expects online sales to account for at least 60% of its overall turnover.
Westminster City Council gave the retailer the green light “on the basis of exceptional circumstances to justify the loss of retail floorspace”, real estate advisor Altus Group said.
Altus added that the entire space has an open market rental value of £19.91 million, which is the third highest in England.
The plans mean that the lower-level floors (the basement, ground, first and second floors) will remain retail-focused. They currently house key departments such as beauty, fashion and home. But big changes are coming to the upper floors, meaning 45% of total floorspace at the store will become dual use space.
The floors tagged for conversion currently host categories such as kitchen and bathroom products, electrical goods and children’s toys and books. But even after the changes, it would still leave John Lewis as one of Oxford Street’s biggest shops, as that rental value shows.
The council minutes said that giving the firm the flexibility to use its space for retail or offices gives it the “opportunity to invest in the retail store for its long-term future”.
The planning permission approval comes as the Debenhams store on Oxford Street has also recently been granted permission to turn part of its fourth and fifth floors into offices.
There has been speculation that Debenhams could be forced to exit its Oxford Street flagship. The property has been owned since 2016 by ex-H&M chairman and Sweden’s richest man Stefan Persson through his investment vehicle, Ramsbury. Earlier this month, The Times reported that Ramsbury “intends to exercise a break clause in the lease at the end of the year and has appointed property agents to find a temporary tenant while it works up plans to redevelop the site”.
If that company converted part of the store into offices, it would still have a retail aspect and it has been suggested that Frasers chief Mike Ashley might be interested in it. His House of Fraser flagship is just next door on Oxford Street.
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