Breaking news: Borough Council signs deal to buy Debenhams building

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The former Debenhams building. Image: Bedford Independent
The former Debenhams building. Image: Bedford Independent

Bedford Borough Council has just announced that they have signed a deal to buy the former Debenhams building in the town centre.

A council spokesperson says it makes “marking” a significant milestone in the rejuvenation of Bedford town centre.”

Mayor of Bedford Borough, Tom Wootton, expressed optimism about the purchase, “This acquisition is a crucial move in our efforts to revitalise the High Street and establish a vibrant community hub.

“We believe that this bold step will contribute to the development of an enticing town centre experience for both residents and visitors.”

The former Debenhams store closed as part of a national shake up to the brand in May 2021. It’s been empty ever since.

In March 2023, council and landlords were said to be planning to turn the store and neighbouring Beales into small retail, food and drink units, with leisure and residential offerings by then-Mayor Dave Hodgson (Liberal Democrats).

Read: Small retail, food and drink units, leisure and residential for former Debenhams and Beales buildings

After a chance at the top in the mayoral elections, the plans to purchase Debenhams continued.

Read: After a chance at the top in the mayoral elections, the plans to purchase Debenhams continued and late last year they were told they were the preferred bidder for the building

Read: Bedford Borough Council planning to buy former Debenhams building

“We acknowledge the challenges faced by traditional retail spaces,” added cllr Andrea Spice (Conservative), portfolio holder for economic growth, planning and prosperity.

“Our goal is to reimagine the town centre, offering a range of amenities and experiences, including retail, hospitality, community services, and cultural and residential spaces.

“We look forward to working with partners to attract new tenants.”

More information on the town centres’ vision is to be published next month and will be discussed at the Executive Committee on Wednesday, 19 June.

Councillors from other parties have also welcomed the news but have highlighted how the space must be protected for local people.

Cllr Lucy Bywater (Green, Castle) said: “We’d like to see part of the ground floor as a vibrant indoor market giving opportunities to a variety of local businesses, to local start-ups and to creatives.

“Flats upstairs should be mixed size and high quality, not just tiny bedsits and studio flats. The town centre currently has too many of those.

“The Council, as a landlord, has control over the quality, and the affordability, so it should make the most of this opportunity for the benefit of residents.”

Local Green cllrs also emphasise that if there are to be ‘car-free’ developments, there “absolutely must be good enough sustainable transport options (public transport and cycling) to get people to and from jobs”.

Lucy added, “In addition, we need to see more town centre employment opportunities – not just in retail which we know is facing real challenges – so that people need not travel far for work.”

This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information becomes available.