The likelihood of retail giant John Lewis setting up shop in Crawley is sinking fast.
Last week, it was reported that the company was thinking of launching a branch of its At Home department in Horsham.
And Cllr Claire Denman, Crawley Borough Council’s Cabinet member for planning and economic development admitted that it was “unlikely” that the company would be part of the Town Centre North development.
She said: “They’ve looked at the area and they are saying, for the homeware shop, Horsham is a much better location.”
But there was no suggestion that the loss of such a big name would damage the ambitions of the £200million Town Centre North project, with both Cllr Denman and developer Stanhope stating that the revamp would go ahead as planned.
Cllr Denman added: “Town Centre North will happen. It is still very much on track and Stanhope are still very confident that it will happen within the time scale
“At the moment it looks more unlikely that John Lewis will come here but it’s not a deal breaker and it’s not totally unexpected.”
Martyn Chase, director at Stanhope: “We did try John Lewis first as you know, but there are other high quality retailers keen to come to Crawley with whom we are also in discussion.
“Our scheme will attract many new brands to Crawley and will go ahead as planned.”
Cllr Denman explained that the whole point of the Town Centre North development was to regenerate the heart of Crawley by attracting shoppers and businesses to the area.
And she implied that John Lewis was more interested in sites on the edge of town – which she feared would draw attention away from the town centre.
She added: “There were rumours that John Lewis wanted to go to Manor Royal, and we did not want one particular brand if it meant destroying everything else.
“We won’t accept an out of town outlet if it meant destroying the town centre.
“If more stores moved out of town then the town centre would die.
“Horsham looks like an edge of town location and that’s not something we wanted to go down.
“People would go to Manor Royal and not shopping in the town centre – and Town Centre North is about securing the town centre.
“If we get the plans right, it will be more people shopping.
“We will support the stores already in County Mall, we’ve got areas like Queens Square that need that bit more investment and there are empty shops in the town centre.
“Our biggest concern as a council is we can’t do anything to undermine the town centre.
“It doesn’t matter how wonderful a name is – if it means sacrificing the town centre it’s a step too far.”
Stanhope is due to submit a planning application later in the year and, should it receive approval, work on transforming the town centre will run from 2015-2017.
It would involve pedestrianising The Boulevard and demolishing the Poundland store in Queens Square to create a direct route for shoppers from County Mall to The Boulevard.
It is hoped that the newly pedestrianised area would include big-name retail stores such as Zara, Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch and Cath Kidston.
Cllr Denman admited that Town Centre North did need an anchor store but added: “It’s very early days to pinpoint any retailers.
“The John Lewis connection was a very long-standing one and comes from well before the recession.
“An awful lot has changed since then.”