Former Debenhams site in Guildford given new name as discussions over future start

The iconic former Debenhams site in Guildford has been given a new name as discussions over its future use get started.

Native Land purchased the site in December after agreeing to pay M&G Real Estate £20 million for the 1960s building and exchanging contracts on the prominent 230,000 square foot site.

The large premises had been listed for sale with developers touting the department store for flats, entertainment and offices.

The site in Guildford town centre will now be referred to as St Mary’s Wharf – a nod to its former industrial use, as plans for the site enter the next stage, with a view to changing its use and developing early proposals for its redevelopment.

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‘We are keen to hear from local residents and businesses’

Native Land has previously developed mixed-use buildings and has signalled plans to reopen a key stretch of the River Wey.

A Native Land spokesperson said: “As the new owners of the former Debenhams site, Native Land is pleased to announce that we commenced our programme of public engagement as we begin to consider the future of this important site in Guildford’s town centre.

“At this early stage of public consultation, we are keen to hear from local residents and businesses to understand what people would like to see from the site, and to explore how the wider community might benefit from its redevelopment.

“We will be referring to the site as St Mary’s Wharf. Not only is this the site’s historic name, but it also acknowledges Guildford’s long history of working wharves along the River Wey.”

A spokesperson continued: “We understand how important St Mary’s Wharf is to Guildford, its businesses and its residents and we believe there is a real opportunity to deliver significant benefits including reopening a key stretch of the river for the town to enjoy.

“Feedback from the community will help to shape our emerging proposals and we look forward to receiving comments.”

The project website adds that proposals aim to make the most out of the site with the wider community in mind including complementing the neighbouring Yvonne Arnaud Theatre’s cultural offering.

Debenhams site Guildford town centre
Debenhams had been an important anchor for Guildford’s retail economy
(Image: SurreyLive)

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Amanda Masters from Experience Guildford Business Improvement District (BID) has shared her views on the early redevelopment plans.

Ms Masters said: “I have to say the architects have a heck of a job on their hands with such a difficult space. It is an odd shape with its back to the river.

“Having now seen the initial ideas of how the space could be arranged so that the riverside is opened up and includes potential for public space I am confident that the area can become an attractive and useful place.

“Our take on this has always been that the riverside needs opening up to the town, that the building connects the High Street with the area, that the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre is not overshadowed and is considered in the design, that it provides quality, but not extortionately priced, housing and that the need to include retail space be considered carefully.

“We would suggest that leisure and hospitality space is preferable to more retail units.”

Guildford Borough Council (GBC) has previously said it would work closely with the new owners to ensure the best use is made of the site.

SurreyLive has previously shared your suggestions on what should fill the 1.4 acre site in Millbrook.

How can you get involved?

Due to government advice regarding COVID-19, the consultation will initially be hosted online, by post, and through video conference sessions.

As part of the early consultation, Native Land is keen to hear a range of views and is organising e-meetings via video or phone call with local community groups.

This initial consultation period will remain open until April 1, 2021. For more information and to have your say visit the dedicated project website.

Surrey Live – News