Is John Lewis coming to Tamworth?
No, don’t choke on your cornflakes… that’s a serious question.
My interest was piqued last month when the Tamworth Herald ran a story under the headline ”Striking design’ of unit to be built next to Herald offices’, on the town’s ever-growing Ventura Retail Park.
In it, the piece gave a few more details about what the new unit would be like, describing it as “similar in size to [Ventura's] Marks and Spencer, ASDA and Sainsbury’s” and “one of the more dominant outlets on the retail park.” It added that “while no details of which retailer will move into the building have been revealed, the building’s ‘striking’ design was unveiled last month.”
This immediately got me thinking. After all, there aren’t many retailers, besides John Lewis and Best Buy, who are currently opening massive, ‘strikingly’ designed stores on retail parks. B&Q was another possibility, but the same edition of the Herald had revealed that the DIY retailer was already going to be opening a new store behind Sainsbury’s, at nearby Cardinal Point, alongside a new Next and a branch of Maplin.
Publicly available planning applications are often a good source of extra information, but it’s taken me until now to check out the application for the development in question (0648/2010) – which was submitted at the end of November and approved in January. It seems that a development of the size proposed was actually already approved for this site in 2008, so the application was for a ‘variation of conditions’, with revised plans and elevations, rather than an entirely new proposal.
I was curious to see the ‘striking’ design of the building, so took a look at the elevation drawings attached to the application. Here’s a screenshot (click image to view in larger size):
Hmmm… a large building with lots of double-height glazing, grey cladding and white lettering. Where have I seen that before? Let’s do a Google Image Search for ‘John Lewis at Home’… (again, click to see it a larger size)
What do you reckon? In the event that the new store isn’t going to be John Lewis, it’s certainly doing its very best to resemble one.
The idea of ‘John Lewis Tamworth’ may sound far-fetched to begin with – after all, the town is not known for attracting more upmarket retailers, and has a town centre that has become increasingly value-focused. However, John Lewis’s new ‘at Home’ format makes the prospect quite plausible.
Largely based on out-of-town retail parks, four such stores have opened to date – in Poole, Croydon, Swindon and Tunbridge Wells – with two more planned for Exeter (on a city centre site that used to be Debenhams) and Chester. Each John Lewis at Home offers the retailer’s full range of furniture, furnishing accessories, electricals and home technology, though items from other departments – including fashion, beauty and nursery – can be ordered instore for home delivery or next-day collection.
If John Lewis is looking to plug the gap between its Solihull, Leicester and Nottingham stores, Tamworth’s sprawling and bustling Ventura Retail Park – which attracts visitors from all across the Midlands thanks to its strong offer and easy connections to the motorway network – begins to make good sense as a location.
Of course, two other important debates – what the continued expansion of Ventura Retail Park means for local traffic congestion and for Tamworth town centre – must not be neglected, and key to this is making it easier for Ventura visitors to access the town centre’s attractions.
Still, if John Lewis were to open in Tamworth, that would be rather a fantastic coup, wouldn’t it?