Watford’s mayor will face some tough questions tonight about the current economic state of Watford town centre tonight.

After the loss of Debenhams and John Lewis and the administration of intu Watford shopping centre, the leader of the Watford Labour party is seeking some answers from the powers that be at Watford Borough Council.

Councillor Nigel Bell will quiz mayor Peter Taylor on when he learnt about the extent of the problems John Lewis were having and what communication he has had with John Lewis in the run-up to the closure.

Last Thursday, the department store announced it would be permanently closing eight shops, including Watford.


The retailer said the eight identified shops were “already financially challenged” prior to the pandemic.

John Lewis suggested anticipated footfall and other costs also played a part in the closure, despite the fact the retailer pays no rent for its Watford site.

The mayor described the loss of John Lewis in Watford as “incredibly sad news”, stating the fact no rent was being paid made it “clear” John Lewis is facing a ”challenging time nationally” and is looking to scale back its business.

Cllr Bell will also ask the mayor how much he knew about intu’s finances and its trading position, when he was elected in 2018 and during his tenure so far.

Cllr Bell says he wants assurances that the council’s interest in the shopping centre has been safeguarded, with the council being freeholders of the whole of intu Watford.

Watford Observer:

The shutters are down at John Lewis at intu Watford. CreditL Stephen Danzig/Watford Observer Camera Club

He also wants to know what long term plans the council made for the shopping centre, if any, when it became aware of the financial issues facing intu, John Lewis, and Debenhams.

Britain’s biggest shopping centre owner, into, went into administration at the end of June after failing to secure an agreement with its creditors.

The company has debts of more than £4.5bn and was unable to persuade lenders to grant a standstill on debt repayments before June 26.

Despite falling into administration, intu Watford does remain open and the council are very much encouraging shoppers into town to support Watford’s economic recovery.

Councillors will also receive the latest information on the council's finances and how much it has lost over the coronavirus pandemic.

Watford Observer:

Figures currently show the council is £2.1 million in the red after a loss of income of more than £2.4 million and additional expenditure of more than £700,000 - for example £290,000 was spent supporting the town's rough sleepers.

The council has received funding of just over £1 million from the government to help ease the financial pressure but it is not enough to balance the books.

As a result, the council has had to amend its budget for this year and this will be discussed at tonight's meeting.

Further details of the council's finances will be published on our website in the coming days.

The full council meeting will take place from 7.30pm on Tuesday (July 14). Members of the public will be able to watch it live on the council's YouTube channel.