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FUTURE options for the soon-to-be-empty Debenhams store in Newport’s Friars Walk shopping centre are being considered, with one councillor suggesting an ’emporium’ featuring start-up businesses.

Online fashion retailer Boohoo has bought the department store brand in a £55 million deal, with all branches set to close and retail moved online.

The city centre store was seen as a key part of the Friars Walk development when it opened in 2015, but now the future of the site is unclear.

Cllr Jane Mudd, leader of Newport City Council, said the authority has not been “directly involved” in any negotiations around potential takeovers of the soon to be empty store.

In a written question to Cllr Mudd, Conservative councillor David Fouweather asked: “Can the leader tell me if either she or any cabinet member or any officer have been in negotiations with any major high street chain to take over the soon to be vacant Debenhams store at Friars Walk?”

Replying, Cllr Mudd said:

“Friars Walk is in private ownership and whilst we seek to support all of our city-centre businesses in partnership with Newport Now, we have not been directly involved in any negotiations on potential lettings within this development.

“The future success of the city centre is, however, much greater than one individual building or operator.”

Cllr Mudd said the council continues to work with partners, including the Newport Now Business Improvement District, to explore opportunities to make the city centre “a vibrant and viable place for people to live, visit and work”.

“We are also working very closely with other cities in South Wales who are in a similar position to Newport,” she said.

“I, alongside the leaders of Cardiff, Newport and Swansea City Councils, have recently sent a joint letter to Welsh Government seeking urgent dialogue to enable further support and investment for our key welsh cities.”

Simon Pullen, Friars Walk director, said:

“We are currently looking at our options regarding Debenhams and will update further in due course.”

Cllr Matthew Evans, Newport council’s Conservative group leader, said the council should be doing “everything possible” to ensure the store is not left empty.

“It’s a big issue for people in the city and we should be bending over backwards to see what assistance we can offer,” he said.

But Newport Independent Party councillor Chris Evans said the council “can’t magic up retailers and businesses”.

“Rather than political opportunism and playing to the gallery, can I suggest we come together, working with business to explore creative possibilities for the space to get the best outcome for our city,” he said.

“One idea could be a co-operative style emporium featuring local start-ups and crafts, a food hall with local producers, the cafes selling local produce.

“Maybe the Welsh Government could get involved, helping create a local, green, sustainable ‘emporium’.”

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