Watch: What next for Debenhams stores across Suffolk and Essex?

Debenhams stores in Suffolk and Essex

Debenhams stores in Ipswich, Colchester and Bury St Edmunds will never reopen - Credit: Archant

The announcement that Debenhams is to disappear from the nation's high streets is a huge blow to Ipswich, Colchester and Bury St Edmunds town centres.

Online retailer BooHoo has bought the Debenhams name - but has made it clear it is not interested in its physical shops.

That means 12,000 jobs across the country, including hundreds in Suffolk and Essex, have been lost.

Debenhams in Ipswich

Debenhams in Ipswich town centre has opened its doors for the last time. - Credit: Charlotte Bond

In Ipswich, the announcement that the doors of the largest store in the town centre will never reopen has thrown a huge question mark over the future of the heart of the town.

The freehold of the store is currently owned by a Canadian-based property company but it has been up for for sale for several months.

Debenhams to close stores:

Ipswich council had been bidding to buy the freehold of the store in the hope that it could have been converted into a smaller shop unit and new uses could be found for other parts of the building.

That bid was revalued after a survey revealed the building needed a significant amount of repairs.

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A new lower bid by the council was rejected, with another bidder prepared to offer more than the borough.

That second bidder is now understood to have withdrawn because of the likely repair bill - and the loss of the main tenant.

The borough still hopes that a private developer could come in to find a new use for the building.

However, it is highly unlikely to be a single retail unit again and whoever does take it on will have to spend millions of pounds on any conversion.

Ipswich council leader David Ellesmere did not rule out a second bid, but said it would not be as high as the original.

 David Ellesmere

Ipswich council leader David Ellesmere did not rule out a second bid for the Debenhams building - but hoped a private developer would take it on. - Credit: Charlotte Bond

He said: "The original bid was based on the premise that Debenhams would remain on two floors as a long-term tenant.

"That clearly is not the case now, so any bid would have to be looked at again - but whether we would be in a position to push forward a scheme with all the pressures we are facing after Covid is very doubtful."

It said the redevelopment of the building was vital for the town centre - but pointed out there was almost no chance of a single store coming in and part of it might have to be converted into other uses like residential or offices.

However, there will be fears that any redevelopment could take years to push forward - leaving the largest shop unit in town empty for a long time.

Ipswich is not the only town where the loss of Debenhams will be a major blow.

The Bury St Edmunds store is the anchor tenant of The Arc shopping centre, which opened in March 2009. 

Debenhams at the Arc shopping centre

Debenhams at the Arc shopping centre in Bury St Edmunds will not be reopening. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

The Bury store is one of the newest in the company's portfolio - and several of those who got jobs there had just lost their previous employment when Woolworths had collapsed a few months earlier.

Mark Cordell, chief executive of BID company Our Bury St Edmunds, said the loss of Debenhams would be a big blow to The Arc.

However, the owners of the centre had been aware of the situation for several months and had been working on contingency plans.

Debenhams also has a stored in Culver Square, in Colchester, which shared some management with the Ipswich store. 

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