POLITICIANS and business chiefs in Helensburgh have expressed their disappointment at the news that Waitrose's Helensburgh supermarket will close permanently, as planned, in early May.

The supermarket chain's parent company, the John Lewis Partnership (JLP), had been asked to consider putting off the closure of the store, to ensure that access to vital food supplies is not restricted in the event of the current Covid-19 'lockdown' conditions continuing into May.

A new company is understood to have taken on the lease of the Cardross Road site, but the identity of that firm remains a mystery – and with it any indication of when, or even if, a new store might open on the premises.

A spokesperson said the company was "very sorry that we will be unable to postpone the closure of our Helensburgh shop beyond May during this unprecedented and extremely challenging time".

And in an email to a concerned customer, seen by the Advertiser, JPL chair Sharon White said: “We could not make the store commercially viable and I am afraid we are not reconsidering the decision.”

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Among the local residents to express their disappointment was Peter Hillis, from Rhu, who said: "I feel that at this time it is irresponsible to close the store leaving the town with only one large supermarket.

“It means that many people will have to drive to Dumbarton to shop which is far from desirable in the present situation."

And Bev Burns, from Kilcreggan, added: “At times like these it is important to keep as many good, household suppliers available to the general public.

“With this in mind surely the John Lewis group should put off the closing of the Helensburgh Waitrose store until all this hell is over?”

Vivien Dance, chair of the Helensburgh and Lomond Chamber of Commerce, said: “We have made contact with Waitrose senior management to ask for a delay to the closure and we will continue to maintain this dialogue over the weeks ahead.

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"The Chamber would support any initiative which helps to maintain food supplies to our community."

Helensburgh’s MSP Jackie Baillie said: “In normal times, it can take several months between one retailer leaving a premises and another being ready to open for business. But these aren’t normal times.

“It is vital that Waitrose and this new retailer work together to ensure there is no gap where local residents are left without access to a large food shop.

“In these times of uncertainty, our community has had to pull together to ensure everyone has what they need.

“I hope that large businesses, such as supermarkets, understand they have a responsibility to ensure our local communities have access to the food shopping required to keep us going.”

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Conservative West of Scotland MSP and Helensburgh resident Maurice Corry added: “It is a daunting thought that the town could potentially be without one of its major supermarkets and fuel stations in the middle of these unprecedented times.

“In the circumstances Waitrose should seriously consider an extension until this is over.

“The community has supported them a lot and we hope that they would return that, even over a couple of months.

“I would ask them to think of their social responsibility.”

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Argyll and Bute MP Brendan O’Hara added: “I wrote to the regional manager asking him to keep the store open as a temporary measure and help see the community through this time of crisis.

"I was deeply disappointed to hear that they will not consider a temporary extension.

“So many people are depending on supermarkets for food and other vital supplies during the coronavirus pandemic and we do not know how long this is going to last.

"We are massively indebted to all supermarket workers just now for going above and beyond to meet unprecedented demand.

"They provide a valuable service and it is sad to see that they will also be made redundant during one of the most difficult times we have ever faced.”

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