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Relief as Debenhams stores in Ipswich, Bury and Colchester escape latest closure threat

PUBLISHED: 12:51 07 May 2020 | UPDATED: 16:38 07 May 2020

The immediate threat to Debenhams department store in Ipswich seems to have been lifted. Picture: NEIL PERRY

The immediate threat to Debenhams department store in Ipswich seems to have been lifted. Picture: NEIL PERRY

Archant

The immediate threat to Debenhams stores in the region appears to be lifted, after the company revealed it had successfully negotiated rent changes with landlords of most of its sites around the country.

The news was greeted with relief by business leaders looking for ways to revitalise town centres once the lockdown is eased and stores start to reopen for business.

Debenhams went into administration for the second time in a year last month – prompting fears of another round of store closures when the lockdown is lifted. All its stores are currently closed.

It has announced that five stores around the country will not reopen after lockdown ends. Stores in Birmingham, Croydon, Glasgow, Leicester, and Reading will stay shut.

A spokesman for Debenhams said: “We continue to engage in constructive talks with our landlords and have agreed terms on the vast majority of our stores, which we look forward to reopening when government restrictions allow.”

Last month Debenhams closed seven outlets, resulting in the loss of 422 jobs, though it said it had agreed terms with landlords to continue trading at 120 of its 142 UK stores.

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The retailer entered administration on April 9, appointing FRP Advisory to oversee the process, casting a shadow over the future of its 22,000 staff.

At the time the majority of its employees in the UK were being paid under the government’s furlough scheme.

The news that stores in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Colchester are not on the closure list will be greeted with relief in those town centres where they are seen as crucial to pulling back customers when the lockdown does end.

Ipswich Vision Partnership chairman Terry Hunt said the news about Debenhams was very good for the town – but it was still difficult to see how businesses would recover after lockdown restrictions were eased.

“We are having a virtual meeting next week after the Prime Minister’s statement at which we will be discussing how we can find a way through for the town centre.

“But there is no doubt that Debenhams is very important for us. It is the biggest shop in the town centre and it is in the most prominent position. We are very keen that it should stay as a cornerstone of the town centre so I am relieved to hear that it appears that it has done a deal on the rents and should be staying here.”

But while the news was welcomed, it may not be the end of the concerns – there are still fears that the long-term future of Debenhams could be in doubt because of long-term changes in people’s shopping habits.


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