|Latest: Closure postponed until 2020 but building put on sale for £20M. See comment from Guildford Society|
Update: 29th Jan 2020: the decision not to close Debenhams was, it turns out only temporary. Today Get Surrey reported that Debenhams is going on the market for £20 million.
The site has potential to provide a major potential mixed development to include elderly assisted living residential apartments, hotel, office and entertainment uses
A spokesman for HP Four Investment LL. said on Wednesday (January 29): “The property currently provides 233,704 sq ft on approximately 1.4 acres in an exceptional prime town centre location”.
Statement from Guildford Society
The site in the Town Centre is for sale for circa £20million (Debenhams the Store is scheduled to close in early 2021). This site could provide facilities of immense value to the town, and become a much valued site by the river as you enter Guildford.
The building frame is considered to be a high-quality steel construction. Re-purposing and re-configuring, rather than knocking it down, saves building costs and is environmentally sound. Saving building costs makes schemes viable at lower heights which is important in the Town Centre. The challenge is the site is deep so natural light at its centre is an issue, it is also in Flood Zone 3 so careful negotiation will be required to agree access at times of flooding, and prevention measures.
Despite these problems, it is possible to envisage, for example, a mixed-use development providing potentially a Gym Facility in the Basement, Ground Floor Food Outlets by the river, plus maybe an Arts Centre, Health Centre etc. The 1st and 2nd floors provide a shared workspace environment, and flats with the plant rooms on the top replaced by penthouse flats. The building would be modified with an Atrium replacing the elevator banks in the centre, re-cladding, and much improved flood protection; including a bridge across Millbrook to provide access during times of flooding.
No doubt there will be plenty of other ideas!!!
This is a critical site where the council needs to take an active role to guide development, not just wait for proposals.
Update Jan 2020 : The threatened closure of Debenhams in Guildford has been postponed until January 2021. Debenhams is closing a number of stores across the country in a bid to save the chain. See article below for more information
More on history of Debenhams
Plummer Roddis or “Plummers” planned and built a huge department store on what used to be an industrial area of land beside the River Wey, known as St Mary’s Wharf and occupied by John Moon & Sons timber yard. ER Chamberlin in Guildford a biography 1980 edition says that the town wanted Plummers in North Street but the chain insisted on the river frontage site. Some complain that this ruined opportunities to link the High Street with the river and create an attractive riverside landscape.
Incidentally, it was from Moon’s yard that timber was swept that fateful day on February 15, 1900, following storms and heavy rain, which lodged against the ancient medieval town bridge, causing water pressure to destroy it.
With Moon’s timber yard demolished around 1963, work on the site began in earnest.
Deep foundations were needed, and the sodden nature of the surrounding ground caused many problems, added to the fact that the builders were working, in effect, below the natural waterline.
Gradually, the building took shape, despite two very harsh winters slowing work down. Plummets opened in 1968 just in time for its basement to be flooded by the notorious Guildford Floods of that year. Manikins were seen floating in the shop window.
The Plummers chain had been bought by Debenhams by the time it opened but the name was retained until 1974
Plummers introduced a new road into Guildford (Millbrook) which was linked to the new giratory (which opened in about 1970).
The new store was the largest development in the town’s history and its bulk has its detractors. Others, like my father, loved the river frontage designed to resemble a cruise ship. The curved river end became the restaurant and complemented the circular Yvonne Arnaud nearby.
The front of the shop contained a glass arcade and at Christmas time this became a feature with animated models. One year on the 1970s I remember it being the Magic Roundabout and I distinctly remember the Wombles another year (about 1975 or 1976).
In 2017 Debenhams announced plans to close 10 stores. It complained that Guildford store is cut off from the High Street. An application to build a glass bridge linking it
The store remained largely unchanged until the late 1990s when the owners embarked on several attempts to revamp the building.
In 1997, Debenhams proposed a glass footbridge across Millbrook that would link the High Street to the shop’s first floor but this was turned down by planning authorities due to the impact on views in what is a conservation area
Debenhams complained that it was cut off from the High Street and threatened to leave the town. However instead it added an entrance at the North End nearest to the High Street which opened in 2000.
Should the shop close it is unlikely that another chain will take it over. Plans for its future currently focus on housing.
Much of the above comes from Get Surrey see link below