Contingency plans are now in progress in case Debenhams closes.
The difficulties Debenhams has been facing nationally have been making headline news recently. In common with many other retailers, changes in shopping patterns have created serious challenges and the current lockdown is only making things more difficult.
The Debenhams store in Taunton has been a major landmark for decades. It has once again survived the national round of closures and it is expected to open post-lockdown. However, whilst no-one wants it to close, the scale of the difficulties it is facing have inevitably raised concerns about the possibility of a large empty store at this key location.
Having a contingency plan in place is seen as a priority for Taunton and the continued health of the high street.
In the current economic climate, there is little demand for retail premises of this size, and it is essential that any plans on how to recover from a closure take this into account. This means redevelopment options need to be considered and a contingency planning application is currently being prepared by Crossmark and their design team on behalf of the landlord.
Mark Lewis, from Crossmark has told Tone News:
We are very aware of the sensitivities surrounding a contingency plan of this nature. Debenhams is a major employer in Taunton, and the best possible outcome for all concerned is for their Taunton store to continue to trade successfully when the lockdown ends.
Unfortunately, store closures can happen quite quickly, and the planning process can be lengthy. To minimise potential impact, we have begun the process early, to give time to develop a positive vision for this important site should redevelopment be necessary and thereby to bring this large town centre site back into active use as soon as possible
Having looked at a number of options for the re-use of the site, Crossmark are proposing mixed-use development that enables a variety of commercial uses to be retained on the ground floor and provides active retirement living for over 55s on the upper floors. Importantly, it is considered that this approach would be able to secure the necessary investment to ensure delivery.
Discussions have begun with Somerset West and Taunton Council as the Local Planning Authority, and an overview of work to date will be publicly available online from 28th May at www.19to26northstreet.co.uk. Feedback is welcomed.
Further information about the design development and consultation process is also available on the website.