Development wrangle over town centre

A SUFFOLK council's deal with a department store company currently subject to a bidding war could undermine plans for a multi-million pound town centre redevelopment.

A SUFFOLK council's deal with a department store company currently subject to a bidding war could undermine plans for a multi-million pound town centre redevelopment.

The claim has been made following last week's decision by officials in Bury St Edmunds to select Debenhams – the takeover of which has provoked interest from two companies – as anchor store for the prestigious Cattle Market project.

Local rivals Palmers, which was snubbed by St Edmundsbury Borough Council after months of discussions, is now considering its future in the town in the light of its rejection – a move critics feel may eventually lead to the decline of traditional shopping areas.

Joan Bonham, a retired businesswoman and long-term advocate of sympathetic development in Bury St Edmunds, said: "Why on earth is the council negotiating with Debenhams when Palmers is already established in the town and ready to sign contracts?


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"At the moment, we just don't know what the future holds for Debenhams, and I think it is absolutely disgusting.

"We know two companies have made firm takeover bids, which means our council doesn't actually know who it is negotiating with. The whole thing just doesn't make any sense."

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Miss Bonham also said trade in the traditional heart of Bury St Edmunds may suffer as a result of the development – which could, she feels, transform a currently unique market town into a scaled-down version of Ipswich.

"We could be left with empty shops and broken windows, which will absolutely spoil our town," she added. "Lots of the businesses already here attract people to the town from quite a distance, but these customers will stop coming if Bury becomes the same as Colchester or Ipswich.

"We have got something a little bit different at the moment, but that may change. It really is very worrying."

Debenhams has already been subject to a management-backed approach from private equity company Permira, which has valued the business at £1.5billion.

Officials have confirmed a second company has also expressed interest in a takeover, but have not revealed details of the offer.

But a spokesman for the company insisted: "It is very much business a normal.

"At the moment, we have not had an offer on the table. If we get one and the company is taken over, then everything might come into question, but the bid should have no impact on the Bury development at all."

And a spokesman for Centros Miller, St Edmundsbury Borough Council's preferred development partner, also denied the ongoing talks concerning the future of Debenhams would have any effect on the massive project – due for completion in 2004.

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