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John Lewis stores in Ashford and Tunbridge Wells to stay shut

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Two John Lewis stores in Kent will stay permanently shut after lockdown ends, the company has announced.

The two 'at home' stores in Ashford and Tunbridge Wells are among eight outlets that are shutting as the brand seeks to protect its long-term future.

Jobs are at risk after John Lewis announced the closures

The closures, which also affect stores in Basingstoke, Chester, Aberdeen, Peterborough, Sheffield and York, have thrown almost 1,500 jobs into jeopardy, of which 195 are at the affected stores in Kent.

It means the Bluewater outlet is the last surviving store in the county. It is set to reopen from April 12 if the pathway out of lockdown remains the same.

A John Lewis spokeswoman said: "At the Partnership’s full year results earlier this month, we said that we will reshape our business in response to how our customers increasingly want to shop in-store and online.

"We will enter into consultation with the 1,465 affected Partners about our proposals. Should we proceed, we will make every effort to find alternative roles in the Partnership for as many Partners as possible."

With Tunbridge Wells' store also closing, the only surviving outlet in Kent is at Bluewater
With Tunbridge Wells' store also closing, the only surviving outlet in Kent is at Bluewater

The three Kent stores survived the first round of cuts last summer, although eight other stores – including two full-size department stores in Birmingham and Watford – did not reopen after lockdown, leading to the loss of 1,300 jobs. A further 1,500 positions were cut from its HQ.

The company suffered a £635m loss last September, and is looking to react to changing shopping habits, with more consumers buying online.

The firm believe that as much as 70% of sales will be made online in the near future.

Pippa Wicks, executive director for John Lewis, said: “Closing stores is the toughest thing we do as a Partnership because we all own our business.

"If the closures are confirmed, every effort will be made to find new roles for Partners and for us to continue to serve our customers by providing access to John Lewis in different ways.

Chief executive at Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce Jo James reacts to John Lewis store closures

“Alongside a growing online business and the expansion of next day Click & Collect, we will invest in our in-store services and experiences, as well as new, smaller neighbourhood formats and the introduction of John Lewis ranges in more Waitrose shops.”

Ashford MP Damian Green said that the news was "a blow, which tells us more about John Lewis’s problems in the new shopping environment than it does about Ashford.

"I will be asking the company what they are doing for staff," he continued, "and how they will serve their many customers in the area."

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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