Plans to demolish and rebuild one of Norwich's most prominent empty buildings have moved a step closer.

Developers have submitted final details of a proposal to replace the 1950s-built former Debenhams department store with 400 student flats and new shops. 

Norwich Evening News: An artist's impression of the siteAn artist's impression of the site (Image: Lanpro)

If it gets the go-ahead, Stanford Real Estate, which bought the Red Lion Street building two years ago, is expected to start work in 2025.

What are the proposals?

The plans would see all but the basement and ground floor torn down to make way for a new building.

Multiple retail units are expected to take up the first two floors, while the rest of the new site would become accommodation for 400 students.

Norwich Evening News: The store has stood empty since 2021The store has stood empty since 2021 (Image: Denise Bradley)

The various sections of the building would vary in height, but at its tallest, it would be three storeys higher than the current six-floor building.

'A huge boost' for Norwich

Paul Swinney, director of policy and research at national think tank Centre for Cities, said the project could prove a "huge boost" for Norwich. 

He said: "Cities across the country have had to deal with large empty stores like this taking up space.

"They have the potential to provide a positive contribution, but how do you use the space?

Norwich Evening News: Paul Swinney, director of policy and research at national think tank Centre for CitiesPaul Swinney, director of policy and research at national think tank Centre for Cities (Image: Centre for Cities)

"Student accommodation is one way of doing this and it can bring a huge boost to an area. 

"Having more people living in the city centre can bring more people to the high street. 

"This can then bring benefits to local businesses, like clothes shops and cafes. 

READ MORE: Hope that hotel plans can keep 250-year-old pub as community asset

"So for Norwich , this is certainly a positive step."

However, not everyone is as supportive of the project. 

Jamie Osborn, who represents the city centre at City Hall and is standing for the Greens in Norwich South at the next general election, has some concerns.

"Norwich urgently needs affordable homes for families, not even more expensive short-term student accommodation," he said.

Norwich Evening News: City councillor Jamie OsbornCity councillor Jamie Osborn (Image: Norwich Green Party)

"Empty buildings in the city centre should be being brought back into use not left to fall into disrepair.

"However we need to make sure that any redevelopment meets the longer term needs of the city and its residents, given the massive disruption and huge amounts of energy required to demolish and reconstruct or even repurpose buildings.

"We cannot allow developments to go ahead that offer little more than a quick buck for developers and could see the city lumbered with yet more empty or unused buildings in the future."

What next?

A Section 106 funding agreement worth more than £700,000 must be agreed in order to meet nutrient neutrality demands.

The application will then go to Norwich City Council's planning committee, with a decision expected by April 4.

If all goes to plan, the developers hope to start work on the site in 2025.

A history of the building

The site has stood empty since Debenhams closed its doors three years ago. 

It has been a horse market, one of the oldest inns in Norwich called the Rampant Horse, a huge shop, a large hole, a playground and a car park.

It is a building which has stood in the city centre since the 1950s, rising from the ashes of its predecessor which was flattened in a Nazi bombing raid.

Norwich Evening News: Orford Place after the 1942 bombingOrford Place after the 1942 bombing (Image: Newsquest)

Before Debenhams it was Curls, a store which had been founded by the Curl Brothers - Edward, Jacob and Henley.

The shop was rebuilt and extended in 1902. It had a handsome brass shop front, lit at night with 11 Ediswan lamps and, inside, a high-tech electric lift.

But then it was gone. Destroyed on a single night in April 1942, during the Baedeker Raids.

READ MORE: Frustration as parking problems near Wetherspoon pub continue

The site, once cleared, was used for various purposes, such as events and car parking until work started in 1953 on what was, at the time, the most modern comprehensive department store in East Anglia.

It opened in the spring of 1956. In the 1960s, Debenhams took over the business but it continued to trade under the Curl Brothers name until 1973.

But after decades as a department store, the Debenhams doors were closed for the last time in May 2021, as the famous name ceased trading across the UK.

Norwich Evening News: The new store takes shape in the 1950sThe new store takes shape in the 1950s (Image: Newsquest)