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Fears for Gravesend town centre as major retailer falls into administration

By Chris Hunter

The future of Gravesend town centre is hanging in the balance following news that major high street retailer Debenhams has gone into administration.

The much loved department store in New Road is a long-standing fixture in the town and many fear its potential loss could signal a downturn in Gravesend’s fortunes.

Last ditch bids by Sports Direct to take over the department store were rejected last week and it was confirmed the company would be taken over by its lenders the next day.

Debenhams, New Road, Gravesend...Picture: Steve Crispe FM2691194. (8617720)
Debenhams, New Road, Gravesend...Picture: Steve Crispe FM2691194. (8617720)

Shoppers in Gravesend said Debenhams would be sorely missed if it was to close.

“Gravesend is like a ghost town,” said Ellen Burdock, 55, of Milton Road. “It’s not good news for the town centre – most of the shops shut and go over to Bluewater.

“The high street in general is dying.”

Kate Kemal, 60, of Pelham Road, said Debenhams was her favourite shop in Gravesend, adding: “I always shop in there, I love it – I’m a bit of a shopaholic when it comes to Debenhams.

“I won’t keep shopping here if Debenhams goes – I’d usually go to Bluewater, but do come here for Debenhams as there isn’t one there.”

Gillian Watts, 59, of King’s Farm, said losing Debenhams would spell grim news for the town centre.

“There’s going to be nothing in Gravesend now, it’s such a shame,” she said. “Debenhams and Marks and Spencer’s were the two main shops.

“Now that Primark’s at Bluewater, there’s no reason to come here really.”

Nevertheless others remained optimistic. Although in the hands of administrators, no store closures had been confirmed this week - and even if it was to close, it could be an opportunity for the town centre to evolve.

Jo James, chief executive of the Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, said there were reasons to be optimistic, but that the potential closures of stores was concerning.

“As far as I’m aware closures haven’t been announced,” she said. “My view is it’s premature to talk about which stores are going to close. “From a general business perspective, the situation is concerning nationally. It just shows the changing times for all town centre.

“For Gravesend in particular it wouldn’t be good news, but at least one positive is the St George’s Shopping Centre is progressing well.

“Any loss of a store like Debenhams is very concerning because it’s an anchor store in any town centre. Nationally it’s concerning with a trend for large stores starting to move from our high streets.”

But she added: “As we all know the high street of tomorrow will bear no resemblance to the high street of days past. They need to be places where we can shop but also where you can relax and eat and maybe find some leisure.”

Simon Hookway, Gravesham Council’s assistant communities director, said: “Of course Debenhams’ company position nationally is of great concern to us, but they have yet to say what the implications of their decision to go into administration will have on individual stores.

“In the meantime Gravesend’s store continues to trade as normal.”

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