£1m grant secured in bid to save Debenhams site

Could Debenhams' building in Ipswich be bought by the council? Picture: NEIL PERRY

Could Debenhams' building in Ipswich be bought by the council? Picture: NEIL PERRY - Credit: Archant

Ipswich Council is hoping to buy the freehold of the Debenhams store on the town’s Cornhill – and has received a £1m government grant to help with the purchase.

Paul Clement, chief executive of Ipswich Central

Paul Clement, chief executive of Ipswich Central - Credit: Archant

The move is seen as crucial for the future of the store, and of retailing in the town centre. The building is currently owned by a property company – but the financial pressures facing Debenhams, which has been in administration twice over the last two years, has caused a great deal of concern.

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The borough has not yet concluded negotiations over its purchase, but it aims to change the building considerably if it does take over the site.

At present Debenhams occupies three trading floors totalling about 160,000 square feet. That is considered too large – and the store is expected to be reduced to two floors and a total of 80,000 square feet.

The top floor is likely to be converted into a different use – probably residential. The borough also hopes to convert the largely unused basement of the store into a new music venue.

An official statement from the council said: “Ipswich Borough Council can confirm that it is in negotiations to acquire the building occupied by Debenhams and to support the retention of this important Town Centre store.

“Our application for government funding is one part of this complex project and we are delighted that it has been approved. However, as negotiations are not yet complete it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time.”

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This £1m payment is understood to be only part of the likely cost of the deal.

Ipswich Central chief executive Paul Clement said the Debenhams building was very important for the town centre – and welcomed the news that the council was hoping to buy it. However that should only be the start of planning for the future of the Cornhill.

He said: “The borough already owns, directly or indirectly, the Town Hall, the Old Post Office and the former Burtons store. It needs to have a real vision for how to use these properties to really bring out the potential of the Cornhill and make it the focal point of the town.”

MORE: Ipswich Town Deal board looks at £25m investment

The government made the grant as the first stage of its Town Deal payment to the town. The Ipswich Town Deal board has come up with a list of 15 schemes for consideration as part of a full £25m bid for government funding.