‘Dying’ Stevenage town centre would be better for Debenhams

An artist's impression of the proposed Stevenage store

An artist's impression of the proposed Stevenage store - Credit: Archant

Residents have criticised plans to build a new department store on a retail park, saying it ignores a “dilapidated” town centre.

Debenhams has submitted plans to open a new store in Stevenage

Debenhams has submitted plans to open a new store in Stevenage - Credit: Archant

Last week Debenhams submitted plans to Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) to open a store on the Roaring Meg Retail Park – replacing current tenant Toys ‘R’ Us.

It is not yet clear if the toy shop will remain at the retail park based off Monkswood Way.

Some residents have criticised the Debenhams proposal, claiming that the town centre would have been a more appropriate choice for the department store – citing parking issues and a lack of similar shops nearby.

SBC announced a £1 million investment to regenerate the town centre at a budget meeting last Wednesday, and that was followed this week with the news that clothing chain H&M will open at Westgate Shopping Centre on March 27.

SBC leader Sharon Taylor believes the regeneration scheme will provide the public with the changes they want.

She said: “We believe that there are plenty of great opportunities for businesses in the town. The new H&M store opening in the Westgate Shopping Centre is just one example of outlets showing a great interest in Stevenage.

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“Of course the town is in need of some physical improvements and we are actively seeking partners to help provide long-term solutions. We will be working night and day to make sure the town centre looks as good as it possibly can for the future. This is a top priority.”

Cllr Robin Parker, Stevenage Liberal Democrat group leader, said: “The town centre is dying, frankly, and everyone knows it. It needs starting again. Of course I would have preferred it if Debenhams came there but we have no power over where they apply to move.

“We suffer from being so close to London and having other outlets, such as the John Lewis in Welwyn GC, so nearby. We struggle to attract affluent consumers in the same way. It really needs starting over again.”

Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland said: “I am delighted Debenhams will be opening a new store , but I do understand the concern of local people that it is at Roaring Meg. The Portas Review clearly showed that car parking charges were the biggest barrier to the regeneration of our town centres. Stevenage Borough Council is taking over £3 million out of the pockets of local people and preventing the regeneration of our town centre. It is clear that they should introduce three hours free carparking which will help hardworking people, regenerate the town centre and support local businesses and jobs.”

SBC will be releasing a prospectus in the next few weeks to distribute to potential town centre investors.