Plans to demolish the old Debenhams department store building in Torquay were announced today. Torbay Council landowners are now being asked to give public input on their redevelopment plans so we went to see what people on the street thought.
The plan for the large main site is to build 16 apartments over four floors with up to five retail units or cafes and restaurants on the ground floor. When we came out to speak to people at the port, the reaction was mostly positive, although some shopkeepers felt it was a missed opportunity to redevelop the whole store from the empty RBS bank to Yates. In the entire stretch from Hoopers to Yates, only one store remains open – Jane’s shop. A trader said: ‘Anywhere else in the world this would be prime real estate, but here all but one store is now closed.
Plans include space to be a new open area Plaza at 12 The Strand, with apartments opposite, and a new kiosk built at the end of Jane’s shop.
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The top floor will include a single parking space for each of the apartments, accessible from the terrace. There has been controversy over the original Victorian wrought iron canopy which will disappear. Although a campaign has been launched to save the canopy, the plan states that only the original canopy columns will be retained: “This allows us to reintroduce street trees and adapt the original columns for the “ambient public lighting marking a return to the historic character of the early 20th century. We also used the canopy as inspiration to design and detail the wraparound first floor terrace.”
The council said: “Key to the success of this scheme is the inclusion of town center living. Here the proposal is to create a terrace of neighborhood buildings overlooking the square with apartments above and retail units or cafes below.”
A trader who asked not to be named said: “General feedback from us traders is that the council missed an opportunity to create something bigger and bigger. They should have considered expanding from the old RBS bank, all the way to Yates.”
A shop owner who did not want to be named said: “Why have a new Plaza when we already have all this empty space outside – especially once they close the other side of the road and pedestrian there where the buses are It’s a I also think if they want fancy restaurants and little sidewalk cafes they better be pedestrianized on that side of the road.
Linda Matthews said: “I dare say these new apartments will be very expensive. I just think it’s a shame we don’t have big stores like BHS and Debenhams or big Marks and Spencers in the city center anymore. .”
Roger Stevens has recently moved from London to Torquay and says he would like to see a quality market selling good local produce once a week: “Where I’m from near Greenwich in London we had a lovely little market that was really successful – it would bring some buzz.”
Young mother Sophie King was waiting for a bus in glorious sunshine. Gesturing to the boats and the sea ahead of her, she said: “I don’t care what they do to the Debenhams building – as long as they don’t mess it all up. Everyone loves it!”
An art student from Torquay, 21, said: “I was away and didn’t know they were going for a walk around the clock tower. I think the pictures look very exciting – Who wouldn’t prefer it? It’s so much prettier. 10,100 It looks different. It fits in with the rest of the area. I love it.
Also in favor of local couple Ian and Elaine Churchward: “I think the designs look quite nice. Something had to be done with Debenhams and it looks quite positive from what I’ve seen.”
Lisa Penny said: “I think it will be good because on the front here it’s a lot busier with more tourists and I think that will help revitalize the waterfront.”
Maureen and John, a married couple who moved to Torquay 44 years ago, have liked what they’ve seen so far of plans for Debenhams. Maureen said: “I’ve seen the plans and I think it looks really good. Torquay has definitely gone down, but it will make that side look better.” Her husband John added: ‘Torquay is turning into a mini Cornwall – people will buy the flats and turn them into holiday flats. The locals won’t be able to afford these harborside flats.’
James, a Torquay born and bred builder, said: “I think it will be fine – but what about all the small local businesses that have just come out of Covid who have struggled for the last couple of years? I don’t don’t think it’s fair on them if the council opens a bunch of new bars and cafes. Two of the units under the Hilton in Torwood Street are still empty and they’ve had to board them up to stop homeless people sleeping outside.
“Also, the council needs to sort out the clubhouse and the public toilets that closed there because of the smell. They have two Portakabin toilets instead.”
Support worker Louise Stevens said she feared new flats would be too expensive for locals: ‘You can imagine it will be like the redevelopment of Abbey Sands where the old Palm Court Hotel burned down – I don’t don’t think many local people will be able to afford apartments like this I guess the pedestrian part of the plan will probably be fine but you don’t really know what it’s going to look like until it’s done.
A retired designer from Hertfordshire who regularly visits the bay said: ‘I think it looks like an improvement and you have to support the council to do that. But I notice they’ve added an extra floor with these ‘box in glass’ penthouse apartments which will make it taller than the existing building.It’s a smart move and it will be bad if the new building obliterates those harbor views.
Eileen and Brian Vowles from Bristol, who visit Torquay three or four times a year, said they miss Debenhams cafe: “The new development looks quite nice, but we liked to sit upstairs in Debenhams watching the view. We come whatever the weather. because we love friendly people – but when the sun is out like today, that’s a bonus.”
Frances Haigh from Brixham said: “I’m sick of all this new architecture. All the new stores look too generic. When you look around the harbor at eye level there are a lot more older buildings and it should stay like that. They call it the English Riviera but it’s not the Riviera anymore.
“Why have a new place? There’s a lot of open space here already – and I’m not passing judgment, but I think it will just become a place where the homeless will eventually end up.”
His daughter-in-law Georgina Bird moved from London to Torquay seven months ago. She agreed that the new development needed more character: “I like older buildings with old stone instead of all that flat glass. I think the design needs to have more character.”
Now people are invited to have their say on the new plans. A public exhibition will take place between 2.30pm and 7.30pm on Thursday 28 April at the former Debenhams store on the Strand. Members of the project team will be there to talk about the plans and answer any questions about the proposals.
The council purchased the site in 2020 as part of its plans to regenerate Torquay town center and boost the local economy. The plans are the result of studies exploring remodeling and reconstruction options, and the different uses of the site. Discussions with the community, key stakeholders and English Heritage were also crucial, the council said.
The consultation opens today and ends at midnight on Thursday 5 May. To consult the plans and give your opinion, click here