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Flagship Debenhams stores will remain closed in ‘massive blow’ to high street as buyers Boohoo move operation online

Debenhams has been bought by Boohoo
Debenhams has been bought by Boohoo

Debenhams will not reopen its stores in Aberdeen or Inverness following a buy-out by online fashion retailer Boohoo.

The £55million deal means the department store will be relaunched as an online-only operation from next year – a move which has been described as a “major blow” for the high street.

Bosses confirmed all stores will close for good after months of uncertainty, with thousands of jobs lost.

Debenhams had flagship stores in the Trinity Centre, Aberdeen and the East Gate Centre in Inverness.

The Eastgate Shopping Centre manager Jackie Cuddy.

Jackie Cuddy, centre manager at the Eastgate Shopping Centre, said the loss of Debenhams for the site is a major blow.

She said: “Obviously it is very sad to see another long established department store leaving city centres across the country. Debenhams’ future everywhere has been uncertain for a long while and whilst Inverness was a profitable store there are to be no exceptions this time as the brand goes online.

“There is no denying it is a big space to fill but the floor plate does mean it could be split in Eastgate.

“A lot of work has been going on by the owners and their agents in the background for a while now to look at options for the space, and once these have all been considered and explored further we will have a clearer picture of the way forward.

“Once safe to do so and when permitted by the authorities, it will be more important than ever for people to support bricks and mortar retail if they wish to avoid their city becoming a “ghost town” and the loss of yet further jobs.”

Debenhams: At the heart of Aberdeen shopping for 36 years

Adrian Watson, the chief executive of the business improvement group Aberdeen Inspired, said Debenhams was an “institution” in the city and that it will be “sorely missed by many”.

He pointed to the major challenges facing the high street even before coronavirus forced the closure of all non-essential shops.

Adrian Watson, Aberdeen Inspired chief executive.
Adrian Watson, Aberdeen Inspired chief executive.

Mr Watson said he hoped the city masterplan, which aims to rejuvenate the area by having more people living and working in the centre, would help with the bounce back.

He said: “While it is heartening that the Debenhams name will live on in some form, it is a blow to have permanently lost the physical presence in our city centre and with that, so many dedicated people’s livelihood.

“Sometimes it can be forgotten that there is a human cost here.

“Our city centre, like most others across the UK and beyond, is facing unprecedented challenges at the moment in the face of the Covid pandemic, which has only served to accelerate rate of change.

Looking ahead to safeguard Aberdeen’s high street

“Aberdeen Inspired continues to lobby government for as much support as possible at a local and national level to further assist affected sectors and try to mitigate the potential for further closures, particularly as we move towards the longer term plan of recovery.

“There are several macro-issues to be addressed in all this, not least how we respond to the inexorable growth of online shopping and level up the cost of physical retailing versus online retailing, as well as how we diversify our city centre offering and encourage planning reforms to help speed up much needed new development.

“In addition to this there is the need to invest in future regeneration and transformation of our city through the city centre master plan principles.

“As difficult as these times are, they do offer an opportunity to work on what we have and innovate, as the city centre remains at the heart of our city and region and there is still much to build on.”

Aberdeen councils funds
Council co-leader Douglas Lumsden.

Aberdeen City Council co-leader Douglas Lumsden added: “It’s really bad news for Aberdeen to see another shop close its doors for the last time.

“This is on top of other closures we’ve seen recently, such as as a result of Arcadia collapsing, and of course the British Home Stores has been lying empty for many years.”

Mr Lumsden called for an “overhaul” of the business rates system to encourage businesses to remain in town centres.

“There needs to be more incentives and lower costs for operators to maintain a presence in the high street,” he said.

“Right now, there’s an unfair advantage to online-only retailers who don’t have to deal with the costs that high street retailers do.

“We’ll be looking at a refresh of the whole city centre masterplan to look at how the city centre needs to change, especially after the events of the past 11 months.”

Calls for talks on ‘refreshed’ city centre masterplan needed ‘as soon as possible’

Meanwhile, the Insolvency and Companies Court has officially issued a winding up order for Debenhams.

At a hearing, judge Daniel Schaeffer made the order after describing the company as a “rudderless ship” and said the official receiver should assess the position.

The judge said an official receiver should now assess Debenhams’ position.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said:  “This will be an anxious and distressing time for those affected and their families.

“We are engaged with Debenhams administrators and will continue to provide PACE support for any individuals facing redundancy as a result of this announcement.

“We recognise that what was already a challenging time for retail has been exacerbated by Covid-19.

“We continue to do all we can to safeguard jobs and provide support to the retail sector in Scotland as we manage the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

“We are committed to supporting the retail sector and have put in place a package of support worth over £3 billion to limit the impact of the pandemic on businesses.

“Led by Business Minister Jamie Hepburn, our Retail Strategy Steering Group is looking to develop a retail strategy for Scotland, including the impact COVID-19 has had and how the sector may have to change and adapt as we look to the future.

“The group is made up of key representatives from across trade organisations, businesses, public sector bodies and trade unions and we will continue to work closely to meet these challenges together.”

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