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Letter: Why Not Have a Design Competition for Debenhams?

Published on: 16 Apr, 2022
Updated on: 16 Apr, 2022

From: Donna Collinson

In response to: Climate and Heritage Are Reasons to ‘Rescue Debenhams Building’ Says National Campaign Group

Spelthorne Borough Council has very recently (March 30), after recommendation by their planning officers, added Staines Debenhams to their local list, despite it being outside their town centre conservation area.

Though Staines Debenhams at 66-years-old, is older than Guildford Debenhams, it was built with a curve to follow the river Thames as Guildford Debenhams’ curve follows the River Wey. Both are approximately the same height, they are modernist buildings, representing well the architecture of department stores of the 1950s and 60s.

Guildford Debenhams is within the Town Centre Conservation Area, and is the setting for a number of listed buildings. I also support SAVE for heritage and ecological reasons and strongly urge GBC planners to recommend locally listing Guildford Debenhams. This would not prevent alteration.

What about a design competition, to suit 21st-century constraints? This could lead to great innovative design. The building is iconic and should be preserved and enhanced, such that will win design awards. The design should be of the highest standards, suited to local needs, make better use of the waterfront, and be a jewel in Guildford’s planning crown.

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test 5 Responses to Letter: Why Not Have a Design Competition for Debenhams?

  1. Norah Morden Reply

    April 16, 2022 at 11:06 am

    In an attractive spot and near shops, bus and railway stations, the doctors and all other town centre facilities, it would be an ideal site for sheltered accommodation for the elderly.

  2. H Trevor Jones Reply

    April 16, 2022 at 8:01 pm

    As a purely personal opinion, I don’t think the existing Guildford Debenhams is a particularly interesting building and I will be happy to see it replaced by what I understand is proposed for, what will be called, “St.Mary’s Wharf” with riverside walks, shops and cafés etc at ground floor and housing above.

  3. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    April 18, 2022 at 11:04 am

    The Debenhams site was bought by a private developer. It is therefore up to them to propose what they wish to do on this site.

    Currently, they are proposing to demolish and rebuild blocks of apartments on top of retail on the ground floor. Of course, GBC will deal with the planning application.

  4. Roger Main Reply

    April 23, 2022 at 9:19 pm

    The developer has put a valid proposal forward. I strongly suggest the debate stops and the site is redeveloped as per their planning application, and the council delays no longer along with all the fringe elements whose ideas are just not viable in the current climate. It’s a “no brainer”.

    Using the building for council offices is not a serious idea. The staff facility does not have showers. Yes there are toilet facilities, but who is going to get the building back up and running: electrics, heating, plant and restaurant refurbishment. There are three selling floors over 25000 sq ft. What new facilities would need to be put in? Who would fund it?

    Roger Main is a former manager of Debenhams

  5. Bibhas Neogi Reply

    April 24, 2022 at 9:36 pm

    The developer has put a proposal but its validity would be for the Planning Department to scrutinise and accept, providing the various criteria required of such submissions are satisfied.

    The Debenhams building is within a conservation area and therefore its demolition has to be justified. Normally only structurally unsafe buildings within a conservation area should be demolished, if not viable for repairs and strengthening. Generally, alterations and additions to buildings would have to maintain their character. Otherwise a conservation area has no meaning.

    The building has a steel frame and floors are of reinforced concrete construction. Unless there are severe maintenance issues, the building should be re-purposed not demolished to make way for a new one.

    Energy that has been used to build it and that would be required to demolish it and used carting away the debris are all net losses. Energy that would be spent to bring in new materials and energy used to build the new buildings would add to the carbon emission that the country is trying to reduce.

    Guildford Society had proposed re-purposing the building (https://www.guildfordsociety.org.uk/2020-8-29_Debehhams_Extended_Leaflet.pdf) and so did I (https://guildford-dragon.com/2022/01/30/letter-demolition-of-debenhams-would-be-a-polluting-waste-of-resources/).

    If planning permission is not granted due to non-compliance with the criteria set out in the SPD (Supplementary Planning Document) (draft currently out for consultation), the developer would have to re-think his proposal.

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