Early plans to convert Leeds Debenhams into student flats get approval from planning chiefs

Blueprints to convert Debenhams on Briggate into student flats have been described as “positive and creative” by Leeds City Council planning chiefs at a meeting this week.

Saturday, 13th March 2021, 6:00 am

A pre-application paper went before members of Leeds City Council’s City Plans Panel outlining proposals to convert the former Debenhams building on Briggate into “flexible commercial uses” – while adding two extra floors for student flats.

According to a document produced by Leeds City Council planning officers, the basement, ground and first floors would remain for commercial use, while student accommodation would be added on the second and third floors.

A two-storey roof extension to replace the existing roof extension built in the 1990s is also included.

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Debenhams is no longer a high street brand after the company closed all its stores last year.

A representative of developer Orchard Street Investment Management said: “The building it getting a bit tired and some of the interventions are not very flattering to the building – we want to give it a new lease of life.”

He said the basement ground and first floor would be reconfigured as commercial space, while the rest would be used for student residential use.

“The quantity of space exceeds a lot of student accommodation schemes in the city centre. We want to provide a number of different types of outdoor space.”

Upper floors of the building would, under the plans, be given over to student accommodation and would, in total, be made up of 124 “bedspaces” in 90 studio flats, and 17 “duel occupancy” studios, which the document dubs “twodios”.

Commenting on the pre-application, Coun David Blackburn (Green) said: “A number of years ago, I ran a campaign for getting spaces over the top of shops open for people to live in again.

“I never dreamed of having a planning committee meeting where we would be talking about people living above Debenhams.”

Coun Asghar Khan (Lab) warned of the need to have a proper mix of housing types in the city centre.

He said: “There is a large number of developments taking place, but we want a mixture of residential and student accommodation in the city centre. Otherwise we will just have one set community there.”

Coun Paul Wadsworth (Con) added: “I have no doubt this stacks up commercially, but the view from us is whether it’s the right place in that part of the city for student accommodation. It does breed a certain type of retail underneath it.”

Coun Colin Campbell (Lib Dem) said: “This seems fine by me. I am not too worried about how you manage the block because the companies who do it know exactly what they are doing.

“We do not wish to see retail disappear on the ground floor and be replaced with a Wetherspoons and a burger bar.”

Coun Dan Cohen (Con) said: “I have no problem with students anywhere in the city, but this notion of literally every new building that comes seems to be for student accommodation, and for the 25 weeks a year students aren’t around, it can have a negative impact.

“But this building isn’t going to be in use and it is not going to be a department store.”

Coun Caroline Gruen said: “I think it is a really positive, creative, helpful addition to the city centre. The preservation of the exterior is an excellent move.”

As this was for a pre-application, no decision was made on the plans, and more detailed proposals are expected to be submitted by the developers in the coming months.