Gloucester needs to adapt for Debenhams replacement
By Rob Freeman | 25th January 2021
The imminent closure of Debenhams store in Gloucester needs to be met with changes in the way we look at the city centre, according to business and planning experts.
Online retailer Boohoo has agreed a £55million deal to buy the Debenhams brand and website, but the 118 remaining shops are set to close after not being included in the agreement.
Gloucester is among those which will close at the end of the winding-up process - which will resume once lockdown restrictions are lifted - leaving an uncertain future for the city centre site.
Last month, Gloucester City Council leader Councillor Richard Cook told Punchline-Gloucester.com the loss of Debenhams would not affect the redevelopment of neighbouring King's Square the council had been in touch with the building's owners Aviva about potential uses.
He said: "I'm aware people have approached Aviva about the building. There are opportunities for developers to buy the building and do other things with it."
In the wake of Boohoo's announcement, Punchline canvassed opinion on what the building could be used for and the closure's impact on Gloucester.
Councillor Jeremy Hilton
Leader, Liberal Democrat Group
Gloucester City Council
"To have potentially the biggest building in the centre of Gloucester standing empty for months and months is a great worry.
"One thing I would totally oppose is the demolition of the building. That building has got to stay. It's part of Gloucester's street scene.
"My key view is that the ground floor should be retained for retail and the other floors should be up for consideration.
"We are going to create more city centre living which will help a number of the smaller stores, but we are going to need somebody in there as retail on the ground floor.
"The council needs to get to grips with this one. We need to have discussions with potential buyers about what opportunities there are and look at options for the building.
"We need to look a the building itself, work with the owners and see what it is going to cost to refit the site. It's too early to say exactly what can be done.
Evans Jones chartered surveyors and planning consultants
"It is devastating to hear that Debenhams will disappear from our high streets, but it is another example of our changing retail habits and the seismic shift from physical to online retail.
"While Debenhams was already having difficulties, its closure has been accelerated as a result of the pandemic.
"Devastating though it is, the time has come to acknowledge the face of retail has changed and rather than dwelling on words such demise, death and decline, which we often hear used in association with the high street, we must work to restructure and repurpose our town centres.
"The shift to online retail is an evolution of consumer tastes and behaviours and our high streets must evolve alongside it.
"The high street can no longer be just about retail, but if we can create town centres in which people want to live, work and play, this can only serve to revitalise our town centres and give them a beating heart once again.
"The loss of Debenhams to retail centres like Gloucester requires all of the key stakeholders to work together to develop a recovery strategy, including easing planning constraints, business rate reform, landlord investment and grant funding to kick start a redevelopment scheme.
"Accepting that retail uses above ground floor will generally no longer be viable, we need to create upper floors which fulfil a wide range or different purposes, including residential, leisure, care, higher educational uses, allowing people to work, learn and play in town centres, bringing increased footfall helping to revitalise our town centres and give them a beating heart once again."
Randall & Payne
"The closure of the remaining Debenhams stores is not really telling us anything new.
"High street retail has long been under pressure and the pandemic has merely accelerated that change as it has for many sectors.
"What I think we should reflect on is that the issue here was less about the product and more about the delivery channel.
"The fact Debenhams' website has been sold and will continue suggests that people were still buying the product, they just chose not to do so in an expensive store.
"We have seen bank branch closures and these were driven by the high fixed costs of property.
"Despite many requests there has been no significant change to business rates to address one of the key issues.
"So we have expensive stores which customers are not using.
"I could easily see this problem transferring into the commercial property market with many businesses adapting to increasing levels of home working which may reduce the demand for office space.
"The challenge for local authorities is to keep the high street alive. The answer may be in smaller units (which may also happen with office space) occupied by a broader mix of national, independent and niche businesses.
"The redevelopment of The Five Valleys Market in Stroud may be an example of this, although it is still early days.
"We are already seeing large businesses develop niche brands to try and capitalise on the support for keeping it local.
"The lesson for SMEs is to make sure we adapt to changing customer demands and innovate to meet those needs whether they are changes to product, channel or something else."
"Closure of the Debenhams store in Gloucester would be a real body blow to shopping in the city, but I cannot say I am surprised by today's news.
"This was a flagship store for Debenhams but in recent years has been very much a shell of its former retail glory.
"I do understand there is interest in the building which needs to be incorporated into the new King's Square."
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