We were pleased to be asked by the Harrogate Advertiser to comment on the closure of Debenhams, and to give our view on any future re-development of this important town centre building. It was originally several separate shops including Buckley’s on Oxford Street (which then became Busby’s in the 1960s, then Debenhams). The resulting building is a mixture of styles (from 1900s red brick to “Festival of Britain style” 1950s infill between it and Westminster Arcade ) and of internal floor levels due to the sloping site. The nearby Westminster Arcade is also built on a slope but with a much more attractive result.
No one doubts the challenges that high street retailing faced, locally and nationally, even before Covid, but we hope that in any redevelopment the ground floor should be retained as a retail to encourage shoppers on to Parliament Street and Oxford Street, and to the smaller independent business that survive there.
Redevelopment will provide an opportunity to remove the 1950s part of the Parliament Street frontage. This may be an exciting opportunity to insert some high quality 21st century design while respecting the historic frontages on either side.
Even a complete demolition and rebuild could be contemplated, which would give an opportunity to widen the footpath along the first section of Oxford Street and thus encourage pedestrian traffic along this street - particularly as we see Oxford Street becoming home to new independent shops. There would also be an opportunity to improve the street scene along Union Street at the rear entrance to Westminster Arcade.
The Civic Society also supports the conversion of redundant upper floor space into residential units (as is proposed for the former Post Office building) and the upper floors here may be very suited to such use.
But in any redevelopment we would be delighted to see glazed canopies used (as there were on the corner of the Parliament Street frontage in the early 1900s). These canopies (such as at Bettys, Westminster Arcade, James Street, Prince Albert Row on Station Parade) are such a distinctive feature of Harrogate that there should be more of them, including 21st century versions.