Is this the end of the road for Broadmead or the start of a bright new future?

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The loss of Debenhams and M&S was a hammer blow to Broadmead but what next for Bristol’s main shopping area?

So, what is the future for Broadmead now that the empty Debenhams store has a new owner and news about the replacement for the boarded-up M&S can’t be too far away?

London-based real estate managers have taken over the flagship Debenhams although it’s not clear at this stage what they will do with the site.

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One thing is pretty certain, though. It’s highly unlikely to be a department store of the same scale again and the likelihood is that it will become a mixed-use space, perhaps combining flats on the upper levels and retail on the ground.

Such mixed-use solutions for former department stores are increasingly common around the UK, and especially since the pandemic hastened the decline of high streets.

The rise of online shopping, as well as Covid, has changed the face of high streets up and down the land.

Many household retail names have all but disappeared from city centre shopping areas such as the 1950s-built Broadmead development.

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The front of the former Debenhams store today (October 12) - the site has been soldThe front of the former Debenhams store today (October 12) - the site has been sold
The front of the former Debenhams store today (October 12) - the site has been sold | BristolWorld

In many ways, creative mixed-use developments are seen as a possible way to solve the need for more affordable housing as well as revitalise areas with new retail units, perhaps from local start-ups rather than the usual big national brands.

This isn’t the first time Broadmead has had to face change. In the 1980s, the opening of the shiny new Galleries shopping centre pulled consumers away from other shops in Broadmead.

And then the opening of The Mall at Cribbs Causeway, followed by Cabot Circus, also had an impact on footfall in the old Broadmead shops at a time when consumers were already shopping more online.

Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees has previously said there is too much retail space in the city centre and that it needs to adapt to modern times.

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In November 2021, the city mayor spoke about the need to ‘reinvent’ Broadmead in order for it to survive, adding that a mix of retail, residential and destination is what was needed in the area.

There are successful mixed-use areas in most major cities, with Manchester, Leeds and even Bristol’s own Wapping Wharf cited as fine examples of communities where residential and retail happily combine.

Of course, there will be many who hope that any flats created in the former Debenhams will be affordable and geared more at local people, first-time buyers perhaps, rather than yet more student accommodation in a city that has plenty already.

It would also be nice to see any retail spaces on ground level offered to up-and-coming local independent businesses rather than the usual big beasts of high street retail.

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Or maybe there would also be space for more bars, restaurants or leisure offerings to attract more shoppers to linger longer into the evening and make the area more of a destination at night.

Time will tell what happens in Broadmead over the coming months and years, but maybe it’s not quite the end of the road for Bristol’s main high street after all.

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