Retail expert says Preston's high street has an "exciting" future, despite the closure of Debenhams next week

Prestonians shouldn't be too worried about the future of their high street, according to a retail expert from the University of Central Lancashire.

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 12:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 6th May 2021, 12:53 pm

Dr Robin Carey head of School of Business at UCLan, says he is "more optimistic than most" that Preston can ride-out the latest big-name shop closures.

Debenhams, which has occupied a three-storey site in the Fishergate Centre since the mid-1980s, will close for the the final time on May 12, following the chain's collapse into administration.

>>>Read more here about the Preston store's closure.

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Dr Robin Carey

Dr Carey said: "The high street has always changed and it always will do.

"People need to look at the buildings in Preston, above the shop frontages, and see what used to be there. Quite often you will see that a clothes shop used to be a retailer of rental TVs, and before that an ironmonger, and before that somewhere that sold products for horses.

"So these buildings have multiple retail lives. They will close and come again and have a different life."

Dr Carey said that Preston is no different to any other retail area in the country, and that the loss of Debenhams was typical of a movement from costly physical retailing to cheaper virtual retailing.

Empty floorspace inside Debenhams, Preston

He said: "People will blame the council or lockdown, but it's not the council and it's not just lockdown. A lot of it is to do with advances in technology. We used to only have 2G on our phones, but now it's 4G or 5G and we can order out shopping on the bus on the way to work."

>>>Click here to see what Debenhams looks like in it's final week.

Dr Carey says that the large Debenhams site in the Fishergate Centre is unlikely to be filled by one retailer, and will likely be broken down into smaller unit.

He said: "It has to be broken down, and can be broken down.

"If you think about Debenhams, how many concession stands were there? They were all individual units, and that's what can happen again.

"It might be reopened with a coffee area, with independent niche areas, a cooking station. It's a great building in a great location, and it can be re-used.

"This is the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution - I'm sure we can re-purpose Debenhams."

In order to re-purpose the numerous empty sites across the city centre, Dr Carey believes that the area needs to be repopulated with people moving into city centre apartments.

There has already been a push on city centre living, with several large-scale developments in the pipeline, including PR1 on the Avenham car park site.

>>>Click here to read more about Preston's city centre living plans.

Dr Carey said: "If you look at places like Manchester or Salford Quays, you will see that many former retail or industrial units are now living spaces.

"The moment you get people living in the city centre, it brings in a different type of retail. You get smaller shops, greengrocers, delis and coffee shops. Many of the people who live in apartments don't have cars, and so they want things close by.

"The need to create and develop city-centre based living will lead to the refurbishment of the high street."

Dr Carey was keen to congratulate the work of Preston Council in promoting city centre living, who he said had "some really exciting ideas on not a lot of money".

He said: "We have the people, the skill set, and some great plans for the future. The high street will continue."