The former Debenhams store on Oxford Street is likely to lose its distinctive metal facade if plans for a refurbishment are approved.
Debenhams closed down earlier this year, and the building’s owners, Ramsbury are now planning to refurbish it for a post-pandemic use.
The site has been occupied by department stores since 1851, when the first one was opened by Marshall & Snelgrove who slowly over the years bought up the entire block. Debenhams bought the store in 1919, and the current building was built in the 1970s. The current metal panel facade was added in 2014 as part of a refurbishment of the building.
The developers say that the current design can only really be used as a large department store and is not suitable for alternative uses, so they plan a large refurbishment, retaining the core structure but replacing almost everything else.
And adding three floors on top.
The plans will see a large retail store occupy the front half of the building with two large entrances on the sides to the upper floors which will be defined as “flexible use”, but basically, offices.
This fits with the shift from high-street retail and if people are travelling into town less to shop, then the shops that remain need local shoppers, so putting more offices and residential in town centres creates the customer base for the shops that remain.
The most dramatic change for the building in terms of appearance though will be the removal of the aluminium facade that shimmers in the wind. While aesthetically dominant, it also covers up the windows so has to be removed to let daylight into the new office spaces.
Three new floors added on top of the building will be stepped back in the classic way of hiding them from the ground while giving space for terraces to be used by the occupants.
The consultation is open until next Friday (4th June) and based on that, the developers aim to submit a planning application later in the year.
Incidentally, if you’ve ever walked around the store you might have noticed the absence of a large door in the building for lorries to drop off new stock. That’s because delivery lorries go to another building, on Welbeck Street, and there’s a tunnel under the road linking the two.
That will continue to be used when the building is refurbished.
If you never visited the store when it was open, there are some desolate photos of it here.