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Debenhams site in Canterbury to undergo £25 million redevelopment after closure

Ambitious plans for a £25 million redevelopment of Canterbury's Debenhams site can today be revealed ahead of the closure of the department store in January.

Architects have drawn up a scheme which will see 11 new shops and food outlets open across three buildings in the Buttermarket, Mercery Lane and Guildhall Street, with 76 flats built above.

Called the Guildhall Quarter, the development is set to breathe new life into an area of the city already affected by the closure of the nearby Nasons store last year.

Clague Architects is involved in proposals for both sites, but says the Debenhams plans are at a more advanced stage, with a public exhibition showcasing the scheme set to be held on Thursday, July 18.

Clague partner Karl Elliott says the project has come about because no single operator was interested in taking on the whole site from Debenhams.

The three buildings are currently leased to Debenhams by Chaucer Property Investments Ltd.

But Mr Elliott stresses the planned one, two and three-bedroom flats - with prices ranging from £285,000 to £550,000 - will not be for the student market.

The footprint of the Debenhams site (13639490)
The footprint of the Debenhams site (13639490)

He believes the new proposals will bring "vibrancy" to the city centre and reports that some well-known retail names - new to Canterbury - are already enquiring about taking retail space.

"Obviously, having both Debenhams and Nasons boarded up opposite each other would not create a very good impression," he said.

"But we think these schemes will bring new vibrancy, as well as many more people living in the city centre.

An artist's impression of the new terrace of shops in Guildhall Street (13624756)
An artist's impression of the new terrace of shops in Guildhall Street (13624756)

"We are bringing forward a development that benefits the community, but at the same time remains viable for the owners."

Mr Elliott says working on the 93,000 sq ft site - some of which dates back to 12th century - has been challenging because of its complex layout.

"Around a third of the overall space is currently not used and some of it has fallen into disrepair, which will have to be sorted first," he said.

Clague partner Karl Elliott (13605076)
Clague partner Karl Elliott (13605076)

Of potential controversy will be the proposal to add two upper floors to parts of the buildings, with the development reaching five storeys in parts at its highest.

But Mr Elliott says extreme care has been given to the design because of the building's conservation area setting and proximity to a world heritage site.

"We are very aware of its sensitive location and the potential impact of any redevelopment," he said.

"The additional floors will be stepped back from the building line to reduce visibility and it is important to note that they will not be taller than those in Mercery Lane."

Clague is working for property investment management company 90North on the Debenhams application, which is expected to be lodged with the city council next month.

'We think these schemes will bring new vibrancy, as well as many more people living in the city centre' - Clague Architects

The building housing the Cotswold Outdoors store, which fronts Sun Street and Guildhall Street, is also part of the scheme. As part of the plans, the ground floor would remain retail, with six new flats above.

It is hoped planning permission could be granted by the end of the year ahead of work starting on the phased development in the spring of 2020, with the first shop units opening by the end of the year.

Debenhams in Canterbury High Street will redeveloped (13635775)
Debenhams in Canterbury High Street will redeveloped (13635775)

There would be no parking on site for the flats, but some would benefit from courtyard garden areas at the upper levels.

It is believed architects may look at developing a link between the Debenhams site and the Nasons development, which is expected to be mixed-use and akin to the Brighton Lanes, with shops, homes and office space.

The public exhibition on the Debenhams plans will be held on Thursday, July 18, between 4pm and 7pm at the former Multi York store at 10 Best Lane.

What do you think? Email kentishgazette@thekmgroup.co.uk or comment below.

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