Landmark former Debenhams store in Leeds to be turned into student flats

Plans to convert the former Debenhams building in Leeds city centre into student flats have been approved in principle by a panel of council decision-makers this week.

The Debenhams store in Leeds city centre
The Debenhams store in Leeds city centre

Plans submitted for the iconic Briggate landmark by Orchard Street Investment Management include the redevelopment of the existing building while also adding a rooftop extension.

Members of Leeds City Council’s City Plans Panel called the proposals, which include more than 100 flats and communal spaces as “imaginative”, “sensible” and “interesting”.

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It followed earlier versions of the plans going before councillors earlier this year, following the closure of Briggate Debenhams.

Speaking at a meeting of Leeds City Council’s City Plans Panel, Coun Dan Cohen said: “I really liked this application at (pre-application stage) and I still really like this application. I think the thing I like most about it is that it is timely, and it is bringing it into use in a sensible way.”

Coun David Blackburn added: “This is the way for the future for some of these city centre buildings. What they are proposing looks really good. I hope they will let us look round when they finish it because I bet it will be wonderful.”

Coun Al Garthwaite said: “I think it is an imaginative, interesting proposal, and I am very happy with it.”

The development will include 124 bed spaces in 107 student flats. Ninety of these will be studio flats, while a further 17 will be duel-occupancy studios, termed “twodios” – effectively one room with two double beds.

Four communal areas are proposed, with a new “courtyard wellness garden” would be created in the centre of the former department store from the second floor up and cover 240 square metres. A smaller communal roof terrace is also proposed, while two lounges, and a study room are also proposed.

It would also mean demolishing the current rooftop extension, which was built in the 1980s.

Debenhams closed earlier this year, after the firm was a high profile casualty of the economic hardship caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The site has been vacant ever since.

A report into the proposals by Leeds City Council planning officers stated: “It is considered that the proposal would result in a high quality, appropriate development. The scheme would bring active use to an important historic building and would add to the vibrancy and vitality to the area and furthering its regeneration.”

The proposal was approved in principle by members of the panel, with final details delegated to planning officers.