Why did Debenhams in Bristol close, who owns it and what’s planned for huge site

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The huge department store closed two years ago - now plans have been unveiled for the future of the site

Major plans have been unveiled to knock down the former Debenhams store in Broadmead and replace it with a huge development providing more than 500 homes for rent.

Buildings between nine and 12 storeys high would run either side of a reinstated Barrs Street off The Horsefair before a high-rise tower block 28 storeys high - ‘a new northern gateway into Broadmead’ - would look over St James Barton roundabout.

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Commercial space is proposed at ground level of the buildings along with a two-storey community space containing a potential library or health centre.

But how did we get here - and what next?

The Debenhams store

Life for the store did not actually start out as a Debenhams. It was built not long after Lewis next door (now Primark) and opened as Jones and Co in the 1957 at a cost of £2million. It was only in 1972 when Debenhams occupied the huge city centre store.

The department store became a major anchor in the Broadmead shopping area, and so it was a huge blow when it announced closure in 2021, ending 50 years in the city. It was one of 49 branches across the UK to close after the long-running retailer chain fell into administration.

New owners

More than a year passed after the shutters came down without any news on what would happen next to the six-storey building. Then, in October, Bristol World broke the story that the site had been taken over by a London-based company called 33 Horsefair Limited, which is part of AEW; one of the biggest landlords in Bristol city centre.

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After the takeover the store was cleared of its interior fittings like railings and displays. Then, in January, the owners issued a short statement on the future of the building as plans were being drawn up. The statement read: “Bristol is an attractive place to work, live and socialise. AEW is working in close partnership with the city council to ensure that Bristol continues to be a thriving city.”

What’s been planned

Yesterday, almost out of the blue, a media relations company released its plans for the site on behalf of the developers which included knocking down the Debenhams building. Running either side of the reinstated pedestrianised Barr’s Street, buildings with more 514 homes for rent would be created - 20 per cent afforable.

The feature will be a 28-storey block which will contain the majority of the one and two-bed homes. On the ground level there would be commercial space with shops lining Barrs Street. One of the ground floor spaces would be made available to a new, local independent business at a discounted rent.

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The reinstated Barr’s Street will be a pedestrianised street cutting through the new development at the former Debenhams siteThe reinstated Barr’s Street will be a pedestrianised street cutting through the new development at the former Debenhams site
The reinstated Barr’s Street will be a pedestrianised street cutting through the new development at the former Debenhams site | AWW Architects

Meanwhile, a two-storey community space is being proposed which could include a health centre or a library. Last year the idea of moving Bristol’s Central Library to the area was talked up.

What now?

The next stage for the plans is a public consultation. The proposal has already been shared with Broadmead Business Improvement District. And on Monday (June 19), an event will take place outside the former Debenhams store for the public.

The proposed redevelopment of Debenhams site with tree-lined, green route to Castle ParkThe proposed redevelopment of Debenhams site with tree-lined, green route to Castle Park
The proposed redevelopment of Debenhams site with tree-lined, green route to Castle Park | AWW Architects

It will also be online between 6pm and 7.30pm on the same day at this website where more can also be found out about the scheme.

After a public consultation a planning application would be submitted to Bristol City Council for approval before work can behind.

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