New boss at Liverpool ONE faces big challenges

With anchor tenant Debenhams set to shut its large store and the COVID-19 pandemic keeping most shops closed, new Liverpool ONE estate director Iain Finlayson has a big job on. Tony McDonough reports

Iain Finlayson
Liverpool ONE estate director Iain Finlayson


Liverpool ONE has appointed a new estate director who takes the helm of the £1bn development during the most challenging period of its 12-year history.

Iain Finlayson is an internal appointment to the role. He previously held the position of business performance director and starts in the new job immediately. His first task is to plot a strategy for the retail and leisure complex’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Opening in Liverpool’s Capital of Culture year in September 2008, Liverpool ONE has transformed Liverpool city centre’s economy and turned the city into a premier retail destination in the north of England.

It comprises more than 170 shops bars and restaurants. However, since March 2020 the retail and leisure sector has been hit badly by the pandemic. Multiple lockdowns have seen all but essential outlets forced to close for long periods.

One of Mr Finlayson’s initial tasks will be to fill the huge hole that will be left by soon to ve closed Debenhams store. The Debenhams chain collapsed into administration in 2020 and now the brand has been acquired for £55m by online fashion retailer boohoo, which is not taking on the stores.

When Liverpool ONE opened in 2008, Debenhams was an anchor tenant, along with John Lewis. The retail stalwarts are located at either end of South John Street. The closure of Debenhams presents a significant challenge.

In an interview with LBN in January, the man who was estates director at Liverpool ONE for a decade, Chris Bliss, said “forward-thinking” landlords will have already formulated a plan for the demise of Debenhams which had been struggling for a number of years.

“Those places with good asset managers will have seen this coming for a long time,” said Mr Bliss, founder of independent consultancy The Momentum Group. “… asset managers will already have started talking to other potential occupiers.”

Mr Finlayson has worked at Liverpool ONE for five years. He offers a wealth of experience in the retail sector, previously holding positions at Ikea and Blackwell’s Bookshop. He said: “I am pleased to have been appointed estate director at this very challenging time.

“There is no doubt we now face, as indeed the rest of the country does, great challenges not experienced before but I am confident we will emerge strongly. Liverpool is a fantastic city to work in and I cannot think of a role I would rather be in right now.

“I have a strong team around me and collectively we will ensure we respond to the changes and challenges around us. I am confident we will continue to thrive and look forward to a bright future ahead.”

Debenhams in Liverpool ONE will soon close for good. Picture by Tony McDonough


Since the pandemic began, Mr Finlayson has worked closely with Donna Howitt, long-established director of marketing and communications, ensuring Liverpool ONE responds appropriately to the pandemic and maintains a close alignment with the wider city.

His appointment signals a change in the way Liverpool ONE will be run, with Ms Howitt taking on a lead role of place strategy director. Having worked for Liverpool ONE for almost 14 years, since before it opened to the public, she will now work closely with the City Region’s Visitor Economy Board and other strategic partners.

Alison Clegg, asset management director for Liverpool ONE’s owner, property giant Grosvenor, added: “We received a number of strong applications and following an extensive interview process we are delighted to announce the appointment of Iain.

“He has developed a wealth of knowledge at Liverpool ONE and will play a key role in driving Liverpool ONE forward to ensure we build a successful future. He understands the challenges we face and we believe there is no better person to bring us through these difficult times.”

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