Fringe Box



Guildford’s Debenhams To Close

Published on: 26 Apr, 2019
Updated on: 28 Apr, 2019

By Hugh Coakley

Guildford’s ailing Debenhams is to close it was announced this morning (April 26). It is one of 22 branches that are to close in early 2020 after Christmas trading.

Debenhams to close in 2020 with immediate speculation as to the future of the prime riverside, town centre site.

About 1,200 jobs are expected to lost across the country. One Guildford employee told The Guildford Dragon that, including franchisee workers, there were around 300 staff at the Guildford branch. The company said that affected staff had been “informed of our plans this morning,” and that they will try to redeploy as many staff as possible.

It is expected that further Debenhams stores will close depending on future high street trading conditions and the ongoing company voluntary arrangements (CVA) negotiations on rent, lease terms and business rates.

The question remains on how the closure of Debenhams could affect the prospects of the ailing House of Fraser store in the High Street, about 300 yards distant. There has been no published comment so far from Mike Ashley, the owner of House of Fraser and Sports Direct, who lost his 29% shareholding in Debenhams when it went into administration.

Correction: This article orginally stated that GBC owned the freehold of the site. We published this information, obtained from a trusted source, in good faith but now understand this is incorrect.

Debenhams on the River Wey occupies a prime site in the town centre and there has been immediate speculation online as to the site’s future. Luxury riverside apartments and offices were raised as possible uses with one comment saying, “The council moving offices into there is a rumour.” This would allow them to make money on the sale of the Millmead site although there is no sign this is an imminent prospect.

The Debenhams riverside restaurant is a popular destination for shoppers but the building itself had many detractors saying that it “looms over the water opposite the bottom of the High Street.”

Like many high street retailers, Debenhams has struggled against on-line competition. It built up a huge debt which it had used to finance expansion and suffered a loss of nearly £0.5bn in 2018.

The Guildford store on the banks of the River Wey opened in 1968 as Plummers. The full name of the business then was Plummer Roddis but, at the time of opening, it had already been taken over by the Debenhams group. It was renamed Debenhams in 1974.

The head lease for the site, with it is believed 60-years to run, is understood to be owned by property company M&G, which is the council’s partner for redeveloping the North Street area. Redevelopment of the store as 50 houses was raised as an option in Guildford’s Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment in 2013. M&G, in turn lease the site to Debenhams a lease with also, it is believed, a 60-year life.

The Guildford Dragon NEWS will be reporting on the reaction in the town to the news of closure of Guildford’s iconic department store.

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Responses to Guildford’s Debenhams To Close

  1. Gordon Bridger Reply

    April 28, 2019 at 10:02 am

    While it is sad, in many ways, to lose Debenhams and suffer the job losses, the revolution in shopping patterns is, on balance, a gain for Guildford as it will release space for much more needy housing and would be welcome, provided it does not entail a new, much higher building.

    The new North Street development plans are yet to be revealed and while the council’s plan for this area has belatedly (four years late) changed to “primarily housing” it still grimly includes the nonsensical figure of 41,000 sq metres of retail (40%), though admitting this may be modified.

    Housing in the town centre is primarily needed for the elderly and younger people without families. The developers should and could provide affordable family type housing in out of town centre locations.

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