Fringe Box



Letter: I Hope My Pessimism About the Debenhams Demolition Is Unfounded

Published on: 13 Jun, 2024
Updated on: 13 Jun, 2024

The 1960s Debenhams buieding – due for demolition.

From: Bibhas Neogi

Further to: What is Happening About the Debenhams Redevelopment?

Regarding the approved redevelopment of Debenhams, I would urge the developer to give serious consideration on re-purposing the building before embarking on the demolition and to be sure whether their scheme is going to give them the return they expect from their investment.

Cllr George Potter, who has commented, is I am sure aware of rising cost of Ash Bridge from £19 million to £45 million. It is also now known that the M25-Junction 10 alteration costs are to rise by £100 million from £250 million to £350 million. No doubt the cost of this scheme would rise similarly but unlike the other two examples where government funding in some form came to the rescue, such increases would mean only one thing and that is all work would come to a halt and likely to remain unfinished.

I thank Cllr Potter for directing me to 685 documents of the planning application. There are a few documents that describe briefly the method of top-down demolition and removal using a combination of lifting of pieces by a crane and small mobile machines collecting the debris and lowering these down on to lorries below. Overall this would be quite a slow and an expensive demolition job.

Guildford Society did have some idea they suggested on how the building could be adapted for continued use. The developer mentions re-purposing as Option 1 in their report but it seems to me that no serious thought had been given to develop the idea further into a working scheme and they went on to develop their idea of demolishing and rebuilding on this site.

As a Chartered Structural Engineer, now retired, I get the feeling that the developer has probably not assessed the complexity and the constraints of demolition of this robust building. I suspect there isn’t enough experience of demolishing similar buildings especially within a constrained area.

The council, I suspect, also did not have appropriate technical capacity to evaluate the issues of the demolition. Also the planning application did not go deeply enough on this topic either although this is a requirement mentioned in the aspects to be covered when demolition (also affecting any adjacent road) are part of the application.

I have already outlined the possibility of an alternative approach of retaining the ground and the first floors for commercial use and modifying the second floor for apartments. Removing the roof area in the middle to form a triangular atrium-like layout would allow ample daylight for the apartments. The floor area under the atrium could be used for communal use.

Such a reconfigured layout of the apartments would roughly be similar to developer’s V-shaped layout of the apartments. Together with a couple of floors of new apartments above the second floor, I think the development could provide around 75 to 85 apartments. This should give a reasonable return without the hassle of a total demolition, the time that would thus be saved and conservation of resources already spent.

The happiest outcome would be a total success of the developer’s scheme and proving my reservations unduly pessimistic. We will have to wait and see.

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Responses to Letter: I Hope My Pessimism About the Debenhams Demolition Is Unfounded

  1. Robin Grantham Reply

    June 14, 2024 at 3:07 am

    Developers have had free rein long enough.

    It’s about time they gave due consideration to the interests of eveyone, not just their pockets.

  2. Mark Godfrey Reply

    June 14, 2024 at 11:37 am

    This sounds like a very sensible plan.

    I imagine the disruption of full demolition and rebuild will be hugely disturbing for a long time. Traffic in the area is already bad enough.

  3. Helena Townsend Reply

    June 14, 2024 at 6:59 pm

    I think Native Land know what they are doing. This building is full of asbestos, has a basement that floods, blocks the river completely and is an eyesore.

    The sooner it’s demolished the better. This is not a council property so Mr Neogi need not concern himself.

  4. Aleisha Shimizu (Mrs) Reply

    June 15, 2024 at 8:30 am

    In an age where sustainability is key, I am surprised that the plans are not for re-use. Is there a reason, are the very bones of the building too old, are there concrete stability issues?

    The ideas Bibhas Neogi has put forward sound very sensible to me. Why should we have to live through an eyesore stage, when the fabric of the building seems very solid and is actually quite an iconic building in Guildford. Not everyone’s favourite architecture, but a celebration from the era.

    I do think it could look very smart again with TLC externally. Incorporating a residential communal top floor courtyard with some trees etc sounds very appealing.

  5. S Leroy Reply

    June 15, 2024 at 9:43 am

    Some people are making an awful lot of money and it’s not the workmen.

  6. Roger Main Reply

    June 16, 2024 at 9:43 pm

    Helen Townsend’s comments are correct. With due respect to Mr Neogi he should not concern himself. His plan, though commendable, is not workable. The strip out has begun under controlled conditions. I suggest he visits the site .

    The proposed plan is workable and has planning permission does he really believe the builders are going back to the drawing board now? It’s a non-starter .

    There are strict rules on demolition which I am sure will be adhered to and controlled by the various agencies.

    I know the building well having run that business for over 15 years, it is a complex structure, but I managed a major rebuild their many years ago under controlled conditions. What the builder does not need now is the continuous adverse comments on the agreed plan. It does no one any good.

    My professional view, as I have written before, is this is a great scheme for Guildford and the River Wey. Let the builder get on with it please.

  7. Timothy Bloomfield Reply

    June 17, 2024 at 3:12 pm

    As a former chartered surveyor who acted both as an agent and a developer in the commercial property sector I think Mr Neogi’s suggestions are somewhat naive. He talks about re-using the ground and first floors for commercial use. Perhaps he could suggest where the demand would come from and at a price that would be financially feasible. I wouldn’t take on any instruction to find tenants from the commercial sector, whether it be for retail, office or leisure.

    Personally I also think this building is an eyesore, and whilst the proposals for the development may not win any architectural prizes, they are a lot better than what the town currently has to look at, particularly as it sits on a main approach to the town.

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