Debenhams In The Strand, Torquay. Credit: Torbay Council

Torquay's Debenhams building to be demolished as part of regeneration plan

Ollie Heptinstall

The empty Debenhams building on Torquay’s Strand is to be demolished as part of a major new regeneration.

The property at Torquay Harbour was acquired by Torbay Council in 2020 and has been vacant since last year.

The council’s Cabinet has now voted in favour of releasing money for multi-million-pound works that will see the old store knocked down and replaced with 16 flats and retail space.

It is hoped the plans will improve the pedestrian area near Debenhams. Credit: Torbay Council
It is hoped the plans will improve the pedestrian area near Debenhams. Credit: Torbay Council

The proposals are part of Town Deal for Torquay – council regeneration projects to be partly supported by £22 million in Government grants.

The council will spend £9.6 million of its own money on the Strand’s regeneration. Another £2.2 will come from the Towns Fund, part of the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

The Pavillion and Torquay town centre are among other areas set for regeneration.

Two projects, including a new rail station in Edginswell and improvements to Torquay Harbour, are already underway.

A planning application for the Strand work is expected to be submitted next month.

The council will then start looking for a contractor to deliver the project.

A council report says the regeneration will make the Strand ‘a more vibrant, healthier and better-connected space’.

“The Debenhams site is at the centre of this transformation. A cornerstone new investment, enhancing the improved pubic realm, enabling new businesses to open up, offering not only employment opportunities but more choice to residents and visitors,” the report states.

The decision to push ahead with the plans follows a council announcement earlier this moth that it would be spend £10 million to buy up to 37 homes to provide temporary accommodation.

The council leadership believes these projects are an investment but some members of the Conservative opposition are worried by the scale of the spending.

Speaking at cabinet last week, Cllr Chris Lewis, deputy leader of the Tory group, said: “I think this is a risky business.

“We’ve got the sale of the flats [at the Strand]. We’ve got building rates going up enormously at the moment which will make this project very very marginal.”

He said the Conservatives ‘have extreme concerns about how much the council is borrowing without having delivered anything’, and asked that the plans go back to cabinet or all members of the council before being formally signed off.

Cllr Swithin Long replied: “The Conservative approach appears to be for the council not to do anything and to leave it to the private sector.

“Well, we had 15 years of that in Torbay and we were left with a building such as Crossways and the Pavilion being left to rot.

“Sometimes the public sector has to intervene which then draws in the private sector coming in afterwards.”

The new look Strand set to replace the old Debenhams. Credit: Torbay Council
The new look Strand set to replace the old Debenhams. Credit: Torbay Council

Cllr Darren Cowell, deputy leader of the Lib-Dem-Independent coalition that runs the council, added: “I think it’s just another example of the party opposite who have this relentless desire to delay things.

“It’s always dither and delay.”

He described the borrowing for the Strand project as ‘investing in our tourism industry as well as our economy’ and said the financial viability of the decision will be shown when the business case is published.

Cllr Nick Bye worried about the lack of public lavatories. “We are very lacking in toilet provision in that main harbour area of Torquay,” he said.

He asked Cabinet if it could include a public loo ‘in what is the heart of our tourism area’.

The long answer from a senior council officer was: “We always want better and more provision of that type in and around for our customers [and] residents but it is a real balance.

“It’s not within the scheme. It’s tricky to deliver and maintain but we believe there is sufficient provision.”

In short, no.