Debenhams could have future as student digs if sale goes through

Debenhams in Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The building in Norwich when it was Debenhams. - Credit: Archant

The prominent city centre home of a former retail giant could provide digs for scores of students as they flock to Norwich to study - should a proposed sale go ahead.

Debenhams, in Orford Place, closed its doors for the final time in May this year having been a mainstay of the city centre for more than five decades.

The building, which does not benefit from any listing, was confirmed in July to be formally under offer.

Now, further information has emerged as to what the site could be used for - be it as a conversion or a demolition and rebuild.

A source close to the sale has said the potential buyer would be looking to make a mixed-use development of the site and if the deal is finalised it "should definitely be this side of the new year".

Student accommodation in Norwich

Further student digs built in Barn Road - Credit: Dan Grimmer

The source added: "If the deal goes ahead the proposed use would be for retail and leisure facilities to take up the ground floor with upper floors occupied by student accommodation."

Should the sale go ahead and the plans move forward, it would be the latest in a line of new student developments in the city as Norwich braces itself for growth both the University of East Anglia and Norwich University of the Arts.

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In the next 15 years, the UEA alone expects its student numbers to have grown by 4,805, while NUA is also expecting an increase in the next decade - with the city needing some 1,700 new student beds needed in the next 10 years.

In recent years the city has already seen a number of new student developments in Barn Road, Duke Street and Pablo Fanque House in All Saint's Green.

Mike Stonard, Norwich City Council's cabinet member for sustainable and inclusive growth. Picture:

Mike Stonard, Norwich City Council's planning cabinet member - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

Mike Stonard, Norwich City Council's cabinet member with responsibility for planning, cautiously welcomed the proposed use - but said it would need to be done in a very specific way.

He said: "Finding new uses for empty space in the city is always welcome but likewise purpose-built student accommodation is always a preference.

"We would need to look very carefully at any plans as it is a large building with windows all around the outside, so it would need very careful attention to detail to make sure there is sufficient natural light."

Close to tipping point?

Stefan Gurney, chief executive of Norwich Business Improvement District. Pic: Nick Butcher.

Stefan Gurney, chief executive of Norwich Business Improvement District. Pic: Nick Butcher. - Credit: Nick Butcher

Stefan Gurney, chief executive of the Norwich Business Improvement District (BID) said questions need to be asked on when the city has reached tipping point with its student accommodation offering.

He said: "I know the city council did some number crunching on how many student beds the city needs, but this was prior to a few newer developments being built. I think we do need to ask when we've reached the tipping point in the space requirement.

"It would certainly make perfect sense for the ground floor to remain retail based as it has that frontage.

"Personally, I would like to see some economic space also included it the development, whether that be office space or for services.

"I think that way it would be really valuable to the city while also providing reasonable ongoing yield for the developer."