Debenhams Southsea closure: Here's how a planning consultant says the high street needs to change

A HAMPSHIRE planning consultant has weighed in on how the high street needs to change, following the closure of two of Southsea’s largest stores.

Sunday, 19th January 2020, 4:07 pm
Updated Sunday, 19th January 2020, 5:10 pm

It comes after Knight and Lee in Palmerston Road, a branch of John Lewis, shut its doors in July last year, before Debenhams ceased trading yesterday.

Robin Shepherd, a partner at the planning and design consultancy Barton Willmore, said work must be done to get people to the high street in the first place.

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Debenhams in Southsea. Picture Ian Hargreaves (170058-1)

‘The way we look at our town centres needs to change,’ he said.

‘We’ve always looked at them as a place to spend money, when actually what we need is for people to spend time there. When we have that different approach, we have a different offer.

‘We’re offering the same things as we have for generations – it’s all about how we can get [customers] to part with their money and spend in a shop.’

Fun events and even busking performances, Robin said, could be key to making town centres more desirable places to be.

Robin Shepherd, partner at planning and design consultancy Barton Willmore, which works across the south coast.

He believes councils may even have to consider taking a cut on business rates in a bid to secure lasting success at their staple stores.

‘If you go at Christmas time, people spend as much time mulling around, browsing, listening to the Salvation Army, as they do spending in the shops and that’s got to be a good thing because it attracts people in,’ he said.

‘I will go into a city centre for the experience. Yes, it’s about parking charges and the range of shops, of course, but it’s much more – it’s about how we brand our places and make them attractive places to be.

Knight and Lee in Palmerston Rd, Southsea, which is now closed. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘How do we make our town and city centres fun, so I want to be in Southsea, I want to be in Portsmouth city centre?

‘Have events – it doesn’t have to be big or expensive but sometimes it’s simple things that attract people to have fun, things that people remember.

‘Things like busking are undervalued – the idea that people will hear a bit of music that will draw them in.’

He added: ‘We need to look at business rates – so what if the council has to take a hit for a few years if that provides the means to get the right people in?

‘It’s always short-termism – we have to have a long term strategy.’

Debenhams still has a store in Commercial Road, Portsmouth.