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From bowling alleys to boutique hotels – the plans coming up next for UK’s ‘ghost’ Debenhams stores

Marks & Spencer is taking over the old Debenhams unit in the Bullring, Birmingham

It has been a year since Debenhams closed its doors for the final time on its retail empire of more than 90 UK stores.

It marked an end of an era – not least for the 12,000 workers losing their jobs but also for the brand that had clocked up more than 200 years of trade on the high street.

It started in 1778 as William Clark in London as a drapers’ store, becoming a flagship in virtually every town and city in the UK.

But as fashions and shopping habits changed, the appeal of the department store concept has waned.

Debenhams continues online under new ownership of BooHoo.com, which bought it out of liquidation for £55million.

And it has made a return to the High Street – in December, a Debenhams shop in Manchester became the first to reopen in the UK.

A flagship Debenhams beauty store launched at the city’s Arndale, selling cosmetics, fragrance and skincare products.

Elsewhere, plans for what happens next to these huge ‘cathedrals of commerce’ as Émile Zola described them in his 1883 novel The Ladies’ Paradise are now starting to take shape.

From bowling alleys to hotels or complete demolition, there is unlikely to be blank spaces left in prime retail space for long.

Guy Elliott SVP, Retail at digital transformation consultancy Publicis Sapient, said: “As prime locations, often historic buildings on prime real estate, it isn’t surprising that they’re getting converted into different sorts of usage.”

A new report by SAVE Britain’s Heritage has highlighted that some of these historic buildings face being lost forever in a race to demolish and start again.

Harriet Lloyd, author of the Departing Stores: Emporia at Risk report argues that these old stores should – and can – be rescued and new uses found.

She said: “In a new era when large-scale retail is no longer sustainable, these fine structures are at risk of dilapidation or even demolition. And as these hubs of daily life are erased from the map, local communities feel increasingly disenfranchised. Protecting and reviving these buildings is not only a matter of preserving precious and distinctive architecture; it is an opportunity to restore a sense of place.”

One year on from the closures, BusinessLive takes a look at some of the Debenhams stores left empty and what is happening next.


Marks & Spencer is taking over the old Debenhams unit in the Bullring, Birmingham

Retailer Marks & Spencer has announced it is relocating its central Birmingham store to the city’s Bullring shopping centre.

The shop is currently based in High Street but the company has agreed a deal to take the huge unit previously occupied by Bullring anchor tenant Debenhams prior to it closing down earlier this year.

The move is expected to complete in late 2022 or early 2023 with all 150 staff relocating to the new shop which will sell clothes and homewares and have a food hall, across the lower two of the unit’s four floors.

The High Street store will remain trading as per usual in the meantime and close once the relocation has completed.


A blueprint is being drafted to shape the future of development in part of Bristol city centre, affecting landmarks including the former Debenhams store. Bristol City Council is currently seeking opinions as it looks to draw up a plan for the area’s regeneration.

The former Debenhams store is listed among five key points of focus, alongside the Galleries shopping centre, Fairfax Street, Callowhill Court and the Haymarket. There are also ambitions to improve Castle Park and St James’ Park, making them safer and more welcoming places to visit.

The authority has advised that “physical changes are still some years away” but that the final plan will be consulted on in ‘winter 2022/23’, before being put before the council’s cabinet.

The department store in Broadmead in Bristol went up for sale just days after its permanent closure on May 15 2021, reports BristolLive


The store, which is sprawled across multiple units on Guildhall Street, Sun Yard and Mercery Lane, is included in wider redevelopment plans for the Guildhall Quarter, which were greenlit at the start of 2020.

According to the Departing Stores: Emporia at Risk, report by SAVE Britain’s Heritage, the 1920s building was set to reopen as a branch of new department store chain 15:17, which had taken over a number of former department stores in towns across the UK, including Ayr, Worthing and Kirkcaldy. The upper floors were to be converted for residential use, but issues over the excess strain this would place on the waste water system has stalled all work on the building.


The former Debenhams store in Chester
The former Debenhams store in Chester

The Debenhams in Chester city centre has been put up for sale with a price tag of £4m.

Allsop is marketing the Eastgate Street property which has approximately 153,268 sq ft over a sub-basement, basement, ground and three upper floors.

The building backs onto to the Grosvenor Shopping Centre and St Michaels Square whose tenants include Jo Malone, Next, Russell & Bromley, Flannels and TK Maxx.

The property was occupied by Debenhams from 1976 and traded as ‘Browns’. It was the only store in the group to retain its own trading name alongside the Debenhams branding.

Browns had been trading in Chester since 1791 and was regarded as the ‘Harrods of the North’, Allsop said.

The purchaser has the option to explore the reconfiguration and redevelopment opportunities, subject to planning permission being granted.

The options include transforming the building for leisure use or a hotel, creating retail units on the ground floor with alternative use on the uppers including office or leisure or converting the upper parts to residential/student accommodation.


Grainger Plc is building Derby's first purpose-built rental development (CGI) on the former Debenhams site as part of a £200million regeneration scheme at Becketwell
Grainger Plc is building Derby’s first purpose-built rental development (CGI) on the former Debenhams site as part of a £200million regeneration scheme at Becketwell

The site of the former Debenhams department store on Victoria Street is currently being redeveloped as the city’s first purpose-built rental development.

Debenhams moved out of the Becketwell area of Derby in 2007 and its demolition began in 2020 as part of a wider £200million regeneration scheme.

The UK’s largest listed provider of private rental homes, Grainger plc , is behind the scheme and have announced it will be named ‘The Condor’, celebrating the aircraft engine built by Rolls-Royce in Derby in 1918.

Construction work is well underway and is due for completion in spring 2023. It will offer 259 one and two-bedroom apartments with 2,962sq ft of ground floor amenity space, including a shared resident’s lounge and co-working space. In addition to 2,185sq ft of external rooftop space with a terrace overlooking the new public square. In addition to a gym, secure car parking, bike store, and electric car charging points, residents will also have complimentary superfast WiFi and the services of a dedicated onsite Resident Services Team.


Plans for a £50m regeneration of the former Debenhams store on Princes Street were approved last year.

The building on 109-112 Princes Street, between Castle Street and Frederick Street, is owned by asset manager Legal & General.

It plans to create a new 207 room boutique hotel and hospitality hub, with plans including a restaurant and rooftop bar, spa, a new pedestrian link between Princes Street and Rose Street and new shopping, dining, leisure and public event spaces.

Legal & General plans to restore the historically significant parts of the building as prominent features within the hotel.

Construction work will begin in 2022 with the new boutique hotel scheduled to open in 2024, reports Insider.


An artist’s impression of how Exeter’s former Debenhams store could be turned into a cinema

Plans to transform the huge corner plot in flagship shopping area Princesshay site have been put forward.

Montagu Evans LLP, on behalf of Purple Investment Management LLP, has submitted a proposal for the former department store in Princesshay that would see it ‘contribute to the vitality and economy of the city centre’.

Under new proposals, a four-screen cinema would be situated on the third floor of the building, with the applicants seeking other tenants for the ground, first and second floors of the Bedford Street premises.

A large foyer on the top floor would include a seating area and a bar, with a planning application stating that views to the city’s cathedral are a key consideration for an as yet unnamed cinema operator when selecting the site for a proposed operation in Exeter.


CGI impression of University of Gloucestershire's city campus at the former Debenhams building in Gloucester.
CGI impression of University of Gloucestershire’s city campus at the former Debenhams building in Gloucester.

The University of Gloucestershire has been granted planning permission to transform the former store in the city centre into its new city campus.

On March 1, Gloucester City Council’s Planning Committee unanimously approved the university’s plans to redevelop the city centre building in King’s Square into a learning space for its staff and students.

The university said committee members welcomed its application as a “positive way” to retain and re-purpose the 1930s art deco building.

Construction work is scheduled to begin on site in May, with investigation, enabling and strip-out works already underway.

Staff and students – mainly from the school of health and social care – will begin accessing teaching facilities from September next year, on parts of the ground floor, lower-ground floor and first floor of the building.


The former Debenhams store in Harrogate, North Yorkshire
The former Debenhams store in Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Harrogate’s Debenhams was originally designed for draper William Buckley. The store changed hands multiple times, notably to Busby’s in 1953, then to Debenhams in 1958.

Wetherby-based developers Stirling Prescient are behind the plans to demolish the building to make way for 50 apartments and two commercial units. The site, which is part of a conservation area, is now deemed at risk, according to The Departing Stores: Emporia at Risk – a new report from SAVE Britain’s Heritage.


Details of a £10m project to open a go-karting, bowling and indoor golf venue in Liverpool city centre’s former Debenhams have been revealed.

The plans from Gravity Active Entertainment for the old store at Liverpool ONE come after the city council gave the scheme its backing in February.

The 100,000 sq ft venue would be spread across the upper two floors of the former department store and is expected to open during the last three months of 2022.

Billed as an “evolution” of Gravity Southside, Wandsworth, Liverpool ONE is said to be the first venue to feature an outside rooftop space that will be integrated into the overall experience.

Parc Llandudno

The unit left vacant by Debenhams has now been taken over by Marks and Spencer.

The retailer has moved from its spot at Mostyn Street to Parc Llandudno – where the Debenhams store closed last spring.

M&S said it was creating another 50 jobs in the process, taking total job numbers to over 160.


How a redeveloped ex-Debenhams store in Plymouth could look

Plymouth’s former Debenhams department store could be radically remodelled to become two shops and more than 160 flats after new owners bought it for more than £3.5m.

Under proposals by Essex-based developer BuildVantage Ltd, the city centre pile would have a two-storey extension built on top, but would also see a huge chunk of the rear of the building demolished and rebuilt to provide light for flats created in the vast former sales area of the upper floors.

But the facades of the building, which fronts onto New George Street and Royal Parade, would remain untouched and no parking would be created for the development.

Plymouth’s Debenhams store – the whole saga

It was built during the post-war redevelopment of Plymouth city centre for Messrs Spooner & Co and was used as a department store for more than 50 years.

The pile went on the market in July 2021 and an offer in excess of the £3.5m asking price was made in the autumn. The building’s lease was owned by property giant British Land but it sold it as a “virtual freehold”, a lease for 985 years, which means it doesn’t expire until December 20, 3006.

The actual freehold is owned by Plymouth City Council, but the building is in a block of buildings for which British Land paid £67m for in 2016 and which also includes the huge House of Fraser store.


CGI of how Torquay Harbourside could look in plans to demolish the empty Debenhams store and creating a town square in its place
CGI of how Torquay Harbourside could look in plans to demolish the empty Debenhams store and creating a town square in its place

Plans have been drawn up to demolish an empty Debenhams at Torquay harbourisde site and replace it with a continental-style square.

Public consultation has begun for the creation of the south facing square with cafes and restaurants with elevated views of the Harbour.

The new modern building would provide space for up to five leisure retail units and 16 2-bedroom residential units over four floors.

Torbay Council bought the site in 2020 as part of its plans to regenerate Torquay’s town centre and help boost the local economy.

We cover all the latest news with journalists based in the regions – you can read more here.

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