Published: 05:00, 13 October 2021
| Updated: 14:55, 13 October 2021
A former Debenhams store is being eyed up as part of a council's town centre regeneration plans.
The unit in Chatham is now being targeted by Medway Council after it was awarded a £9.5 million grant to develop and improve the town centre.
The empty shop in the High Street has been rumoured as a potential flagship location for the council's redevelopment ambitions since it closed in January 2020.
Now council leader Alan Jarrett (Con) announced during a public meeting last Thursday it had been holding discussions about using the former Debenhams around its successful bid to the Future High Streets Fund (FHSF).
He said: "By 2024 we will have made good use of the £9.5m Future High Streets Fund grant – seeing investments in the St John's Centre and The Brook Theatre.
"We are also working towards the advent of a Healthy Living Centre and Innovation Hub in the Pentagon Centre, the redevelopment of the old Debenhams site and changes to the infrastructure adjacent to Mountbatten House to form a new city square."
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Jarrett said he could not disclose further details.
"We're trying to bring as much life back into the town as possible. It's only possibilities at this stage," he said.
"We can do without big premises [like Debenhams] being empty for too long.
"We will see if anything can be done. Even if we were in talks it would be commercially sensitive."
In August, it emerged council chiefs are looking into acquiring numerous properties which could be brought back into use across the town centre.
The leader of the council also revealed talks have been held with the NHS about possibly opening a Healthy Living Centre in the Pentagon Centre – comprising GPs, other healthcare provision and advisory services.
One of the aims of the FHSF bid set out ambitions to reconfigure the first floor of the Pentagon Centre for community use.
He said: "We've had discussions but nothing more concrete than that. To have one in the centre of Chatham would be marvellous though.
"We can't do anything without the NHS say so."
The authority owns the shopping centre and adjoining Mountbatten House and has plans to redevelop the six-storey building into flats, office space and a rooftop champagne bar.
Labour group leader and Chatham central councillor Vince Maple said: "Any improvement to the health provision is critical and will be welcome.
"The details of those are still to be confirmed but if there's any impact on business then this needs to be handled sensitively."
Regarding the potential acquisition of Debenhams, Cllr Maple said using empty buildings such as the former department store and the old Trafalgar Centre were crucial to regeneration aims.
He added: "People who come to Chatham will see huge sites like those empty and will be concerned about that. It's in nobody's interest to have empty buildings.
"I would hope to see a mix of good quality use such as retail or business on ground floor and see some use for residential as well.
"We still need to be bringing more life into towns and the shops will be their local shops. This is the same in other town centres across Medway."