Former Debenhams, Harrogate
Plans to demolish and redevelop the former Debenhams building in Harrogate:
It was bound to happen. The collapse of Debenhams has left a vacuum of listless retail space in every high street across the country. Asset managers know they can’t find another department store tenant in the age of Amazon, and so we are going to see more and more of these Victorian/Edwardian department store buildings purged.
This is a particularly egregious example. Harrogate prides itself on its heritage. This is a Victorian spa town, and thousands flock there each year to see this charm. If you demolish it, then you will slowly lose that pull, and Harrogate will become irrelevant. Enough of the town was already lost to the concrete before the planners realised how precious Harrogate is.
This is a genuinely stunning example of Edwardian commercial architecture, with the striking wall end gables well suited to a highly prominent corner plot.
The building is quite clearly robust and has operated as a retail premise since the very recent collapse of Debenhams. There is absolutely no need to redevelop this site from the ground up. The only justification cited is the split levels and the nuanced space designed for retail. I am not familiar with the interior layout, but if it was operating as a modern department store in recent history, then surely it is still fit for purpose? Architects are supposed to be able to offer solutions to this kind of thing aren’t they?
This reason alone can not justify the loss of such a landmark building, which is in a conservation area and surrounded by listed buildings. If this building is lost, Harrogate Council will have proven that commercial interests trump heritage designation. There is no clearer example of when a planning authority needs to say no.
It is very sad to see that Heritage England, and the Harrogate Civic society are both supportive of the demolition. The County Council also appears confused, and has declined to comment because it is ‘a change in use’. How odd.
The heritage assesment that will ultimately condemn the building is by Woodhall Planning & Conservation. It must have been a strain to write up a report that recommends demolishing such a building. Describing this as a ‘redundant and tired building’ and claiming that the new introduction will bring ‘vitality to the conservation area around the clock’ is laughable. How do you sleep?
I urge any readers to get their comments into the Council as soon as possible.