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Debenhams Faces Demolition As People Asked How They Want It Rebuilt

Published on: 21 Mar, 2021
Updated on: 21 Mar, 2021

By Hugh Coakley

Initial plans for “one of the most critical sites in Guildford”, including demolition of the former Debenhams building, were revealed this week (March 18) by the developer, Native Land.

Aerial view of the Debenhams site (photo from the St Mary’s Wharf website)

In a well-regarded approach to engaging with the residents, three options for the site were presented on the consultation website (see also video below). They showed homes over a ground-floor “mix of retail and commercial uses”.

All options gave public access around the proposed building, including the riverside.

The site, bought for £20 million as freehold, is tentatively being called St Mary’s Wharf, referring to its previous use for Moon’s timber yard, dating from the 19th century.

Three options at the March 21 consultation for the former Debenhams site. Native Land say that the height of the buildings will be affected by number of homes on the site and the amount of commercial and retail space.

A spokesperson for Native Land, said: “At this early stage of public consultation, we are keen to hear from local residents and businesses to understand what people would like to see from the site, and to explore how the wider community might benefit from its redevelopment.”

No detail was given about the height of the proposed buildings or of affordable homes. A spokesperson said: “The development will deliver new homes and the likely type and tenure is under review.

“It is too early to confirm dates for a planning application or the start and completion of construction.”

The developer’s rationale for demolishing the former Debenhams building included the lack of public access to the riverside and the poor energy efficiency of the old building.

Cllr John Rigg (R4GV, Holy Trinity), executive member for regeneration, said: “The difficulties of this project are not to be underestimated but the needs of our residents are at the heart of those plans.

Cllr John Rigg

“We are collaborating with developers on sites such as St Mary‘s Wharf. We are encouraging consultation at each stage of the project and I hope residents will participate in helping to identify the right development for this superb site.”

Bill Stokoe, chair of the Guildford Vision Group, called the development a positive opportunity for “a reinvigorated riverside” as well as providing new homes. He urged the developer and the town centre masterplan teams “to liaise closely”.

Bill Stokoe

He added: “I also hope any flooding concerns can be designed out and the planners and agencies involved are proactive in helping to achieve that.”

Alistair Smith, chair of the Guildford Society, said the development offered the opportunity “to host public facilities of various kinds for the benefit of the town, in a great location”. He welcomed the developers considering “public space, walks by the riverside, and the potential to re-open the pedestrian underpass”.

He added: “It is one of the most critical sites in Guildford and how it is developed will show how serious the council is to support high standards of design and urban planning.

“It is good that energy is being applied to the site because Guildford can ill afford it staying empty for many years. GBC should provide, even in redacted form, the guidance they are providing to the developers, and how it aligns with the town centre master plan”.

The Dragon has asked GBC if it will be publishing the guidance to the developer.

The initial consultation period will remain open until Thursday, April 1.

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test One Response to Debenhams Faces Demolition As People Asked How They Want It Rebuilt

  1. Roger Main Reply

    September 1, 2021 at 11:07 am

    Having run this store for over 15 years and carried out a major refurbishment I feel I can comment on the current proposal.

    I believe the developer has got the correct balance for the site, including site lines and height.

    My hope is that the council will agree to this proposal and not drag its feet as it did when we refurbished the store and had to go to appeal.

    I note talk about community use, this is a commercial site and lends it self to this well thought out plan. I do not believe it can be used for community use, after all who pays? Also the council will in the long-term benefit in the rate return on the site.

    I wish the developer well in this project which will benefit the town and strongly urge the support of all.

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