THE chairman of Debenhams said the anchor store in Swansea will be among the first to re-open after the council agreed to defer its business rates.

The retailer had warned that the Quadrant Shopping Centre store was one of four Debenhams in Wales which could close for good because they did not qualify for emergency business rates relief.

Swansea’s Liberal Democrat opposition group started a petition urging the Welsh Government to include premises over a certain size in the business rates relief scheme launched in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The scheme excludes a number of supermarket stores which continued trading, but also some anchor stores which had to shut down through no fault of their own.

The Labour administration in Swansea has been trying to find a solution – and has now announced a deal with Debenhams to defer business rates until March 31, 2021.

Mark Gifford, chairman of Debenhams, said: “I have been overwhelmed by the help and support offered by Swansea Council and the personal contribution made by the chief executive and leader of the council in helping Debenhams re-open in Swansea.

“I will make sure that Swansea will be one of the Debenhams stores included in the first wave of our re-opening programme, and with the support of the council and our landlord, our Swansea store has a strong future.”

Council leader Rob Stewart said the best way to support the company was to suspend business rates to give it more time to pursue a business rates review and apply for other sources of emergency funding.

The council is leading on a £135 million regeneration scheme on land adjacent to the Quadrant Shopping Centre and across the other side of Oystermouth Road.

“Debenhams is vitally important to the future of our city centre,” said Cllr Stewart.

“The store is an anchor and attracts many people into Swansea. We will do everything we can to ensure Debenhams plays a massive role in our plans to regenerate the city centre and help our economy recover from this crisis.”

Lib-Dem leader Cllr Chris Holley said he welcomed the new agreement and hoped Debenhams would flourish.

“We need them in the city centre,” he said.

Debenhams pays £1.1 million business rates per year for its St David’s store in Cardiff, and it is understood the bill for the Swansea store is not significantly less.

Councils collect business rates on behalf of the Welsh Government, which then shares the money out to authorities based on a formula.

Cllr Holley said his only concern was that Swansea might lose out when the money was reallocated.

Russell Greenslade, chief executive of business group Swansea BID, said: “There has been a lot of work going on behind the scenes to help Debenhams to secure a long-term future in Swansea city centre, and we are pleased, as a BID (business improvement district) to have played an active role in this.

“Debenhams is one of our anchor stores that support our smaller businesses and the fact that all interested parties have pulled out all the stops to support it is a measure of the fact that we all feel that the next chapter of Swansea city centre is a crucial one.”

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