Could Ipswich Debenhams become hub for health and leisure?

Ipswich Debenhams

Ipswich Debenhams closed in May but the building's owners are now looking for alternative uses. - Credit: Charlotte Bond

The former Debenhams store in the heart of Ipswich could be converted into a health and leisure hub with shops and restaurants on the ground floor, its new owner has revealed.

Unex Group, which is owned by legendary racehorse owner Bill Gredley, bought Ipswich town centre's largest store for about £3m on the day it closed in May, and have spent the last few months looking at possible uses for it.

Managing director Adrian Morris has now said that work to strip out the Debenhams fittings is now about to start - and that will allow the building to be redeveloped.

He said: "We are progressing well with the building.  We currently have demolition contractors in the building stripping it back to its fabric.  

"We are in discussions with numerous parties who are interested in taking space including several national restaurant operators, leisure operators and various health uses.  

"We consider the building may well become a hub for health related services with leisure and food retail uses alongside.  

"We also have an occupier earmarked for one floor of offices.  We are exploring an option to add an additional floor to the building given the current level of interest."

The developers have been in regular contact with Ipswich council officials - and Mr Morris was pleased with the level of co-operation they were getting.

He added: "I must say that we have had an enormous amount of help from Ipswich Borough Council on this and it is refreshing to be working with a local authority in such a positive way.

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"We see these types of uses being not only complementary to the town centre in the sense that they will bring people in (spending money) but may also help to trigger regeneration of the area with the potential pedestrianisation of part of Lloyds Avenue."

There are hopes that restaurants or bars could be created in units facing Lloyds Avenue with the paving at the bottom of that being extended to allow more outdoor eating and drinking.

Debenhams on Lloyds Avenue

Could a redevelopment of the Debenhams building lead to the reopening of the entrance on to Lloyds Avenue? - Credit: Charlotte Bond

However all these proposals are still at an early stage and will depend on tenants being lined up and proposals being approved by Ipswich council planners.

But there is satisfaction that proposals for such an important site are starting to come forward within months of its purchase - many buildings have sat empty for years before any new use has been discussed.

Why did Ipswich Debenhams close?

Debenhams was the largest store in Ipswich town centre and the last remaining genuine department store in the town when it closed on May 4.

At the turn of the century there were three large department stores in the town centre - Debenhams, the Co-op in Carr Street and Allders in the Buttermarket centre.

Allders is now the Empire Cinema, the Co-op is awaiting demolition with its site to be turned into a school and Debenhams is set to be redeveloped.

Debenhams, originally called Footmans, had been on the site since 1842 and was one of the most profitable stores in the chain.

But the whole business failed because it was crippled by debt and could not cope with the loss of business to online retailers.

It first went into administration in April 2019, and there were hopes some of the chain could be salvaged in a reconstruction of the business, but lockdowns and a failed sale prevented that and it was confirmed last December that all the stores in the country would close.

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