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Debenhams defeat Mike Ashley-funded court action and will close four stores in Kent

Four Kent Debenhams will close following a High Court victory for the struggling retailer.

The doomed department stores are in Chatham, Ashford, Folkestone and Canterbury and were earmarked for closure back in April.

Debenhams in Folkestone is one of the stores earmarked for closure
Debenhams in Folkestone is one of the stores earmarked for closure

The high street giant went into administration earlier that month.

The plans to close 22 of its least profitable stores and pay reduced rents at its remaining outlets in order to keep the rest of the company afloat hit a stumbling block when some of its landlords objected to the proposal.

Colourful billionaire and Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley funded the legal challenge.

He is one of the landlords who had objected and failed in a bid to buy the company earlier this year. The package put forward by Debenhams was agreed by 80% of landlords.

The ensuing court case has now come to an end, with Mr Justice Norris finding in favour of Debenhams in four of five parts of the claim.

The company voluntary arrangement (CVA) will now move forward, putting 1,200 jobs at risk.

Stores will close next year but there are longer term plans that could see an additional 28 shut their doors.

When the closures were announced they were seen as a huge blow for high streets which were already struggling.

Cllr Vince Maple, leader of the Medway Labour said, “Today’s confirmation that Chatham High Street will be losing one of its most iconic businesses in Debenhams is a huge blow for our community.

“It is absolutely critical that the staff get all the advice and support they need at this most difficult of times. It is also very important for

Chatham moving forward that this store is not left vacant for an excessive period of time in the same way the Trafalgar Centre has been left empty since 2014.”

Chatham is in line to become Medway's city centre if the council is successful with a long-running campaign to achieve city status for the Towns.

Meanwhile Canterbury's store is set to be transformed into 12 retail units and 70 flats as part of a £25 million project.

The vision for Debenhams in Guildhall Street, Canterbury
The vision for Debenhams in Guildhall Street, Canterbury

Shoppers in Ashford have been teased by the prospect of a Primark moving in to their Debenhams branch while over in Folkestone grand visions would see a cinema take over the site.

Today's news was welcomed by chief executive Stefaan Vansteenkiste.

He said: "We are delighted that the court has today confirmed that our CVA is effective and will continue to be implemented as planned. We note that the only aspect that the judge required to be adjusted was a technical provision of the CVA relating to landlord forfeiture provisions.

"Our proposals had unprecedented levels of support from our landlords and today's outcome is good news for our 25,000 employees, our pensioners and suppliers. We retain the support of our lenders, and everyone at Debenhams can continue to focus on trading ahead of the important Christmas period."

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