Councillors 'listen to residents' in calls to save Debenhams' canopy

The canopy outside Debenhams in The Strand, Torquay

The canopy outside Debenhams in The Strand, Torquay - Credit: Ed Oldfield

Options to keep the pavement canopy outside Torquay Debenhams are to be explored by the team drawing up plans to redevelop the site.

An online campaign was launched to save the historic cast-iron canopy outside the store in the The Strand opposite the harbour.

It followed news that Torbay Council was considering a scheme to demolish the building and replace it with flats and commercial use on the ground floor.

The council’s ruling Cabinet approved going ahead with a planning application for the redevelopment scheme but it also agreed that there should be discussions with the community and the project team to explore options for keeping the canopy.

Council deputy leader Darren Cowell said the move showed that the council was 'listening to the concerns of residents'.

Cllr Nicole Amil said she had received representations about keeping the canopy, and welcomed the decision to investigate retaining the structure which she described as 'full of style and elegance'.

Debenhams in The Strand, Torquay

Debenhams in The Strand, Torquay - Credit: Torbay Council

Councillors heard that talks were taking place with a tenant to move in temporarily to the Debenhams building when the keys were returned to the council, keeping the key shop in use during the summer.

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Talks have been taking place with other owners of neighbouring properties in The Strand for several months, but no agreement has been reached to allow a wider regeneration scheme.

Cabinet member for economic regeneration Swithin Long said the proposal to go ahead with the redevelopment of the main Debenham’s building at 12-14 The Strand on its own would prevent the site being out of use for too long. 

Cllr Long said: “We have to make a decision, otherwise things might stagnate.”

The council bought the main Debenhams building and a smaller property used by the store in The Strand in spring 2020 to take control of the key town centre site in case the struggling retailer closed.

The £1.65million property deal followed the council’s purchase of the Fleet Walk shopping centre in Torquay for £15million.

Debenhams shut its stores during lockdown and it was announced they would close for good after an online retailer bought the brand in January.

Cllr Cowell said: “People are applauding the steps taken by the council to have the foresight to purchase the Debenhams building at the time, because we were fearful that it could end up being a stagnant site.

“We absolutely want to have destiny in our own hands so we can refresh that area around the harbour.”

Council leader Steve Darling said the redevelopment would tie in with proposals to widen the pavement in the area under a series of harbourside improvements being funded by the Government’s £22million Town Deal package for Torquay.

He said: “The clear message to property owners is ‘Get on the bus now’ if you want to see your property involved in this in the very near future.”

Ed Brown, of the council’s economic development company TDA, said the building was in a conservation area and surrounded by listed buildings.

He said a heritage consultant would be involved to assist the architect and design team to achieve a sympathetic scheme that everyone would be happy with.

Conservative councillor Chris Lewis said he was concerned about the 'piecemeal' effect of redeveloping the Debenhams site on its own, as other properties including a former Boots branch and a listed former bank could remain empty for years.

Councillors were told talks would continue with neighbouring property owners, and the Debenhams scheme could be followed by second phase of development.

The Cabinet approved going ahead with preparing a planning application for the site, paid for by surplus income from the council-owned Fleet Walk shopping centre.

The regeneration scheme would add to improvements in the area which have seen a £32million Hampton by Hilton hotel, office and retail development in nearby Torwood Street, and work under way on a new Premier Inn hotel on the Terrace car park overlooking the harbour.