Who actually owns Norfolk's Debenhams buildings?

outside Debenhams store

Who owns the Debenhams buildings and what will happen to them? - Credit: Archant

The 36-year-old multi-millionaire Irish grandson of bookmaker legend Barney Eastwood owns the building currently occupied by Debenhams in Norwich.

Businessman Bernard Joseph Eastwood, from Holywood, County Down, bought the Orford Place building in 2005 for more than £20million.

Orford Place, pictured in 1955. Photo: George Plunkett

The building of the Orford Place giant department store. This was taken in 1955 and you can see the sign stating 'New Curls store.' The Curl brother ran the store until it was taken over by Debenhams in the 1970s. - Credit: George Plunkett

But now, with Debenhams being snapped up by online retailer Boohoo who have no plans to keep brick and mortar outlets, the future of this building and others in the region is uncertain.

Land Registry data shows the building occupied by Debenhams was bought together with land and other buildings in Rampant Horse Street and Brigg Place by Mr Eastwood for £20.2m. He is involved in 98 different companies, mostly property and investment based.

Meanwhile a London-based investment firm owns the King's Lynn Debenhams building at 10-16, High Street. It changed hands just before Christmas when another property investment firm sold it for £1.1m. 

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The Top Shop building in Norwich is owned by the firm itself which paid £12m for it in 2016. Meanwhile Aviva Life and Pensions owns the building formerly occupied by BHS, St Stephen's Street in Norwich. 

Norwich Buildings "D"Debenhams Department Store which was built on a bomb site in the late 1950s

The Debenhams building, Orford Place. - Credit: Archant library

It comes as a question mark hangs over what happens to the buildings occupied by retail chains which are now crumbling.

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As well as the Boohoo purchase, Asos is in exclusive talks to buy parts of the troubled Arcadia empire including Topshop, Topman and Miss Selfridge.

This carve-up could see the equivalent of 194 Premier League football pitches, coming vacant as commercial space nationwide. Either the liquidators of retailers will sell on the leases, re-let the space or hand the keys back to the owners.

However, Guy Gowing, managing partner of Arnolds Keys property agents, said he was confident buildings like Debenhams in Norwich would be in demand by other retailers.

"My view is the high street will bounce back with some vengeance but it will be smaller. People in the UK have an innate love of shopping and they aren't going to give that up overnight.

"I am confident that in the next six to nine months retailers will be queuing up for a position in the high street. The Debenhams building is in a fantastic location. I can see the ground and first floors being used for retail, the upper floors of buildings are always more challenging and could be used for some form of residential."

Debenhams in King's Lynn

The King's Lynn Debenhams building which spans from 10-16, high Street. - Credit: Archant

Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich Business Improvement District, also said they would welcome the buildings being used as mixed schemes. "It's unlikely we'll ever go back to the 1980s of having shopping all in one place. However we wouldn't want to see residential without infrastructure; low quality housing in the middle of cities without services wouldn't help."

The Topshop and Topman store in Norwich's Haymarket. Picture: GoogleMaps/Archant

The Topshop and Topman store in Norwich's Haymarket. - Credit: GoogleMaps/Archant

The Orford Place building is leased to Debenhams with 99 years running from 1995. 

Similarly, the King's Lynn High Street building is leased for 30 years from 2004, according to Land Registry data.

This huge building, with a rotunda, was purchased by Starlow Investments, of Regent Park Road, London back in November. Its boss Abraham Low, 56, of the same address, spearheads 16 different firms, again mostly property and investment based.

Irish businessman Mr Eastwood is reported to have overcome serious illness as a child.

He went on to be named the joint best BSc Finance graduate at Queen’s University back in 2008 after which he joined investment bankers Houlihan Lokey in London. He now runs his own business empire.

His late grandfather Barney Eastwood, who died last year, was an Irish boxing promoter and bookmaker most notable for developing the career of Barry McGuigan. He reportedly sold his chain of 54 betting shops to Ladbrokes for £135m.

The Norwich Debenhams building was originally owned by the Curl brother who ran the department store Curls. After their original store was bombed in the Second World War, the Orford Place building was created, taking three years until it was finished in 1956. Debenhams officially took it over in the 1970s.

The original deeds to the building were signed by Percy Edward Curl in 1956.


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