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‘We could attract two or three premium brands to Norwich’ – Retail chief positive despite House of Fraser closure

PUBLISHED: 16:40 15 November 2018 | UPDATED: 16:40 15 November 2018

Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich Business Improvement District. Picture: Sonya Duncan.

Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich Business Improvement District. Picture: Sonya Duncan.

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Norwich should still be considered a top shopping destination, says a retail leader, who believes the departure of House of Fraser is an opportunity to reinvigorate the city centre.

Destined for closure. The House of Fraser store at Intu Chapelfield, Norwich. Picture: Neil DidsburyDestined for closure. The House of Fraser store at Intu Chapelfield, Norwich. Picture: Neil Didsbury

The department store chain announced on Wednesday it would close its store at Chapelfield shopping centre after attempts to renegotiate rent with owners Intu Properties foundered.

But Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich Business Improvement District, the body charged with ensuring the commercial vibrancy of the city centre, argued the closure should not be seen as a serious blow to the city’s retail health.

“We now have a good space available in a primary retail location. What we’re seeing across the national high streets is that retailers are looking for smaller footprints so we may now be able to attract two or three premium brands who are not already in the city.

“That size of unit doesn’t come up very often so that should be seen as an opportunity.”

MORE: House of Fraser is to close its Chapelfield store in Norwich

Intu Chapelfield general manager Paul McCarthy has also suggested that the space could be turned to alternative uses, such as leisure or entertainment, following the lead of other Intu centres in Watford and Lakeside.

Future options for the vacant unit could include attractions such as a trampoline park, mini golf, state-of-the-art cinema or climbing walls, he said.

MORE: Escape rooms, climbing walls or a cinema... What next for House of Fraser store in Norwich?

Bolstering Norwich’s leisure attractions would also be of benefit to the rest of the city centre, said Mr Gurney.

“They may look to use the space that way, and it would be an innovation and a point of difference that would bring people in,” he added.

The decision to close four stores at Intu premises – Norwich, Nottingham, Lakeside in Essex and the Metrocentre in Gateshead – was made by owner Mike Ashley after 14 weeks of negotiations.

Mr Gurney said: “No one wants to see the loss of a store of that size or with that brand, but it is reflective of a national move by [owner] Mike Ashley and his group.

“He was doing what he feels is right for his business but it shows the strength of Intu’s business that it feels it doesn’t need to be put in a difficult position.”

MORE: When House of Fraser came to Norwich: What the department store meant to our retail scene

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