Published: 10:28, 26 April 2019
| Updated: 13:33, 26 April 2019
Debenhams has revealed four Kent stores are among 22 it could close next year as part of debt restructuring plans, which have put around 1,200 jobs at risk.
The beleagured department store chain, which fell into a pre-pack administration earlier this month, has announced details of two controversial company voluntary arrangements today, which would allow it to reduce rents with landlords and close shops.
Its locations in Ashford, Canterbury, Chatham and Folkestone are expected to close if the proposals are approved by its creditors, in what has been described as "a devastating blow" for the town centres.
Executive chairman Terry Duddy said: "The issues facing the UK high street are very well known.
"Debenhams has a clear strategy and a bright future, but in order for the business to prosper, we need to restructure the group's store portfolio and its balance sheet, which are not appropriate for today's much changed retail environment.
"Our priority is to save as many stores and as many jobs as we can, while making the business fit for the future."
The restructure plan would lead to the closure of around 50 of Debenhams' 166 stores, with the first 22 shut next year.
All Debenhams stores are proposed to remain open during 2019, including through Christmas peak trading.
Bosses said they have spoken to its landlords and groups representing the landlords, pension trustees, lenders and other stakeholders about the restructuring plan.
The company wiped out all the value of the investments of its shareholders when it went into administration, including a 29% stake owned by Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley, who had tried to take control of the group.
Its new owners have committed to inject £200 million into the company.
The full list of stores expected to closure are: Altrincham, Ashford, Birmingham Fort, Canterbury, Chatham, Eastbourne, Folkestone, Great Yarmouth, Guildford, Kirkcaldy, Orpington, Slough, Southport, Southsea, Staines, Stockton, Walton, Wandsworth, Welwyn Garden City, Wimbledon, Witney, Wolverhampton.
The closures will cause major disruption for town centres affected.
Jay Kent, manager of the nearby Pentagon shopping centre in Chatham, said: "We are extremely sad to see Debenhams go. It's very, very sad news."
GMB, Britain’s general union, has called the closures "devastating".
Gary Carter, GMB National Officer, said: “Although many will not be surprised by the closure announcements - this is devastating news for Debenhams employees who have battled hard to keep the company afloat.
“They will join the tens of thousands of retail workers made redundant in recent months.
“It’s another hammer blow for the high street, another established name gone and more retail space left empty.
“The closures will have a real and negative impact on the livelihoods of the employees and on local communities.
“It’s about time this Government stopped bickering over Brexit and did something to stem retail job losses and reinvigorate Britain’s high streets.”