Debenhams Commercial Road: Tallest building in Portsmouth of 35 storeys set to be created at prime city centre site

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The city centre’s former Debenhams store is set to be transformed into a huge 35 storey building – the tallest building in Portsmouth – as part of plans to create hundreds of homes and new retail units on the site.

Developers are asking Portsmouth City Council whether plans to create four buildings on the site, providing 569 flats at the site of the retail unit and its car park on Commercial Road, requires an environmental impact assessment study before it formally submits a planning application. The proposal, submitted by Phil Salmon Ltd on behalf of the applicant, is for four buildings, up to 35, 23, 15 and five storeys, to provide the flats as well as 3,292 sqm of retail and indoor recreation/gym space.

If given the green light, the 35 storey building will be the tallest in the city – an honour which currently goes to the ‘Lipstick Tower’ at Gunwharf Quays standing at 26 storeys, with the 23 storey building also one of the city’s tallest buildings.

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The former Debenhams store, which closed in 2021 after the company collapsed, remains empty in its prime position in the city centre while the south side car park has been fenced off from the public. Planning documents said the owners of the site “recognise the importance that it has played historically to the wider retail offer within Commercial Road and the opportunity it now offers as part of the regeneration at the city centre”.

Indicative CGI for the former Debenham's redevelopmentIndicative CGI for the former Debenham's redevelopment
Indicative CGI for the former Debenham's redevelopment

“Over the past few years, they have considered options and opportunities for bringing it forward as part of a major redevelopment scheme to provide a mix of retail commercial and residential uses, that would serve to enhance the urban form of the immediate area and lead to the revitalisation of the precinct.” It adds that the site was previously developed and constitutes “a regeneration scheme”. Early assessments have not identified “any existing habitat of relevance or significance”.

In May last year plans for an even taller 38-storey skyscraper on the site were withdrawn by Phil Salmon Ltd. Later on in December, the Isle of Wight-based developer ruled out student accommodation at the site, intending to accommodate “professionals” and allow for graduates to stay in the city.

Recently, redevelopment work has started on another former Debenhams site on Palmerston Road in Southsea, named Handleys Corner, with plans for residential and retail spaces.

Residents can view and comment on the latest plans for the Debenhams site by visiting Portsmouth City Council’s planning portal and using the planning reference 24/00001/EIASCR.