Aug 24, 2022
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Department store buildings may get protected status - report

Aug 24, 2022

While department stores are in increasingly becoming an endangered species, their buildings at least are to be protected, if Historic England has its way.

Photo: Sandra Halliday

The public body which looks after England’s historic environment has announced a review of landmark buildings amid a raft of closures as campaigners call for a programme of ‘creative reinvention’.

That means reviewing the status of buildings seen by many as “icons of the high street”.

With the closure of many department stores over the last three years, including Debenhams and House of Fraser, many former stores are left vacant, at risk of demolition.

Other campaigning organisations such as Twentieth Century Society (C20) and Save Britain’s Heritage have lobbied to save buildings that were “once the heart of our high streets” said Save Britain’s Heritage.

According to C20, more than 50% of department stores across the country have closed in seven years, leaving vacant nearly 2 million sq m of retail space, which the campaign group says is space worthy of “reinvention”.

“We are researching the history of department stores to provide a national overview of the key architectural and historic phases of their development,” according to an Historic England spokesperson.

“This is in response to the changes in retailing which have seen stores close and an increase in requests for them to be considered for listing. The work is at an early stage so we don’t yet know if it will lead to any proposals to list further examples.”

A recent campaign to save the M&S branch at the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street in London, is the latest example of such possibility, as property developers and MPs have joined calls to retrofit the building for sustainability purposes.

“From a sustainability standpoint, the case to demolish it does not exist. The embodied carbon created by the new development is enormous,” claims C20, which has also lobbied for the review of department stores around the country as a distinct building type.

Its efforts came to fruition earlier this month when a former John Lewis and Cole Brothers building in Sheffield was given a Grade-II listing by Historic England, after a 20-year battle. 

Objections were recently raised over the proposed demolition of a former Debenhams in Harrogate while others identified for architectural and historic interest by the organisation include former Debenhams stores in Somerset and Surrey, and Aberdeen’s Norco House, acquired by John Lewis in the 1980s.

“If not as temples of consumerism, how else can these leviathans serve their communities?” the organisation said of its campaign. 

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