Recent announcements by major retail names in the UK such as Debenhams, Boots, and Marks & Spencer to close large numbers of stores in towns and cities across the country demonstrate the scale of the challenge they are facing.
It’s not just major national names that have gone. Locally, Canterbury has lost large independents such as Nasons, with plans now coming forward to develop this other significant and high-profile High Street site under the name Biggleston Yard.
The decision to close stores has been driven by a combination of factors, including:
…and as we all know Canterbury will shortly see the loss of its Debenhams stores.
A further site – 15-16 Guildhall Street – is under a lease with Debenhams and trading as a Cotswold Outdoor shop. The ground floor will be retained for retail sales and the upper floors transformed into four apartments.
Hundreds of thousands of people visit Canterbury each year to enjoy the Medieval city, and a key part of that is the retail offering. Although there would be a net reduction in the amount of retail space due to the conversion of the upper floors of Debenhams into residential, the ground floor can now better suit modern retail businesses.
This in turn will help support a strong and vibrant café culture. If the Debenhams space was to be left vacant for a long period, there would be a danger this part of the city being blighted and the experience of visiting Canterbury undermined, which could impact on other parts of the city’s economy.
One in ten people work in retail, making it the largest private sector employer in the UK. These jobs are as important to Canterbury as they are to Cardiff and Carlisle – and they need to be retained.
It is vital that everything is done to sustain retail space in the city centre – and with it, retail jobs – but the existing layout, and first and second floors of Debenhams, were not viable for modern retail.
This can be achieved with the current stock, but now an innovative and forward-thinking approach has been agreed for its future use. This will involve the transformation of under-utilised retail space into city centre homes, sitting alongside sustainable retail units to help underpin the local economy.