THE landlords of Taunton’s Debenhams department store are preparing a planning application which would see the landmark building converted into retirement flats and retail premises - should the shop close.

The application, which the landlord says is only pre-emptive, would see retail premises retained on the ground floor, and ‘retirement living for over 55s’ on the upper levels.

Developer Crossmark Estates Limited has been tasked with creating the plans and is now calling on residents to have their say over the future of the site.

A spokesperson for the project said: “The difficulties Debenhams has been facing nationally have been making headline news recently.

“In common with many other retailers, changes in shopping patterns have created serious challenges and the current lockdown is only making things more difficult.

“The Debenhams store in Taunton has been a major landmark for decades. It has once again survived the national round of closures and it is expected to open post-lockdown.

“However, while no-one wants it to close, the scale of the difficulties it is facing have inevitably raised concerns about the possibility of a large empty store at this key location.

“Having a contingency plan in place is seen as a priority for Taunton and the continued health of the high street.

“In the current economic climate, there is little demand for retail premises of this size, and it is essential that any plans on how to recover from a closure take this into account.

“This means redevelopment options need to be considered and a contingency planning application is currently being prepared by Crossmark and their design team on behalf of the landlord.”

Mark Lewis, director of Crossmark, said: “We are very aware of the sensitivities surrounding a contingency plan of this nature.

“Debenhams is a major employer in Taunton, and the best possible outcome for all concerned is for their Taunton store to continue to trade successfully when the lockdown ends.

“Unfortunately, store closures can happen quite quickly, and the planning process can be lengthy. To minimise potential impact, we have begun the process early, to give time to develop a positive vision for this important site should redevelopment be necessary and thereby to bring this large town centre site back into active use as soon as possible.”

Discussions have begun with Somerset West and Taunton Council, the local planning authority.

Meanwhile, and an overview of work to date is available online from today at

Alison Bancroft, of communications firm Redport, urged people to get involved in the process.

“With public gatherings unlikely for the foreseeable future, we’ve been looking at how we can best consult online,” she said.

“We’re very happy to be working with Commonplace, an award-winning community engagement platform, and we are beginning the consultation at an early stage to give plenty of time for people to become aware of these proposals and respond.

“As designs develop, we will also be holding public webinars to present proposals and give people a chance to ask questions. We would welcome help getting the message out to the maximum number of people.

“An A4 printable poster and an info-graphic that can be shared on social media can be downloaded from the Commonplace website.”

The leader of Somerset West and Taunton Council is asking the public to make sure they have their say.

Cllr Federica Smith-Roberts said: “We are committed to regenerating our High Streets to help make them fit for the future, but we do not own the Debenhams site.

"Of course, we agree that the loss of the store would be a major blow to British high streets, as is the loss of any iconic name.

"We urge everyone who wants to have a say on the future of the site to take part in the consultation as part of the planning process.

"We can use land and buildings owned by the council to rejuvenate Taunton and we are working with landowners and developers to deliver the town that we want and need.”

For more information about the design development and consultation process, log on to