Plans for cinema in Exeter Debenhams 'held back'

-Credit: (Image: Mary Stenson/DevonLive)
-Credit: (Image: Mary Stenson/DevonLive)

Plans to convert Exeter's vacant Debenhams store into a cinema are still in limbo more than three years after being submitted. Exeter City Council has said a decision has been "held back".

It has now been more than three years since Debenhams in the Princesshay shopping centre closed for good in May 2021. The chain had gone into liquidation in December 2020 after struggling during the pandemic and was delivered a final blow when Arcadia Group, which owned a number of the department store's concessions, went into administration. Boohoo bought the Debenhams brand in January 2021 but decided to relaunch online only.

In February 2021, an application was submitted to turn the Exeter store into a cinema with a bar and restaurant. The application was made by Purple Investment Management LLP, a joint venture between the King's retail company The Crown Estate, HSCF Exeter Nominee No. 1 Limited and HSCF Exeter Nominee No. 2 Limited.

Application documents state that The Crown Estate had already been approached by "a boutique cinema operator" prior to the announcement of Debenhams' closure. It says that the department store had surrendered part of its lease and that The Crown Estate originally began looking into the implementation of a four screen cinema in one block whilst allowing Debenhams to remain operational on the lower floors.

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When it was confirmed that the shop would be shutting altogether, the proposals were revised so that the cinema would also make use of the lower floors, mainly as an entrance and "access core" to the rest of the building. Images in the application suggested that the cinema could be operated by Everyman but this has not been confirmed.

More than three years after being submitted, the proposals are still labelled as "pending decision" on Exeter City Council 's planning portal. In July 2023, an additional document was added to the application, which contained emails showing an agreement between Exeter City Council and agent Montagu Evans to extend decision deadline for the application to September 30, 2023.

So far, a decision has still not been reached. Last week, DevonLive contacted Exeter City Council to ask why the deicsion has been delayed and whether the application is still being considered.

Today (June 10), an Exeter City Council spokesperson said: "The application has been held back from determination at the request of the agent."

The statement comes just weeks after rumours began swirling that Princesshay could be partially taken over by Frasers Group, who owns well-known brands including House of Fraser, Sports Direct, Jack Wills and Slazenger.

A retail property source recently told The Times that the group was a frontrunner to purchase the 50 per cent stake in the shopping centre after investment management company Nuveen put it up for sale for a reported £40million. The other half of Princesshay is owned by The Crown Estate.