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Letter: As High Street Stores Close, New Urban Homes Could Be Born

Published on: 24 Aug, 2020
Updated on: 24 Aug, 2020

From Michael Bruton

One significant impact of the virus pandemic is on shopping habits. Online grocery shopping has doubled, so do we need the same type of supermarket, or fewer of them?

Online non-food shopping has also increased dramatically, propelled by the rise and rise of Amazon. So why go to the high street as often?

Many of the traditional shops are in trouble, Debenhams is in administration, the famed John Lewis is closing stores and M&S is reorganising and reducing its headcount massively. The need for traditional high street space is shrinking rapidly.

Many shops can be converted into homes, much as some office blocks have been. Guildford’s Debenhams, albeit an ugly building, could be repurposed into attractive housing, as could the vacant properties in our upper high street.

Town centres would become places to live in again. The decline or in some cases the death of some high streets is an opportunity to build or convert areas into good-quality housing and avoid consuming ever more of the countryside with bricks and mortar.

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Responses to Letter: As High Street Stores Close, New Urban Homes Could Be Born

  1. Alistair Smith Reply

    August 25, 2020 at 4:26 pm

    Michael Bruton raises interesting points on the conversion of property in the town centre to homes.

    The Guildford Society believes that several uses should be considered for major buildings becoming vacant in the town centre, to keep Guildford an interesting and useful town centre. Residents and visitors will still require retail, entertainment, and support services e.g. Doctors Surgeries.

    The Debenhams site provides a unique and exciting opportunity to enhance the attractiveness of Guildford and provide a range of benefits to the community. We have proposed an option that re-purposes the building to build on the strengths Guildford has in the arts and to create a new attraction to complement an inevitably smaller retail presence in the town.

    A block of flats or offices built with limited public use does not do justice to the town or the site. We also need to avoid the site being derelict for years – another North Street.

    A debate is required quickly by interested parties to consider options for the Debenhams site as it is a key site for the town.

    Our proposals for a re-purposed Debenhams building can be found at the Guildford Society website.

    Alistair Smith is chairman of Guildford Vision Group.

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