This is one vision for Hull's closing House of Fraser store

By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 11 Jun 2018

The proposed closure of Hull's House of Fraser department store presents a "huge challenge" to the council but there is an opportunity to create a hub for "crafts-based" start-up firms, according to a former city leader.

On Thursday, the chain announced its intention to close 31 of its 59 stores, with the Ferensway store on the casualty list. Unless creditors and landlords backed its proposals it did "not have a viable future", the firm said.

Martin Mancey, who retired last month as the city council's portfolio holder for economic regeneration, said the announcement will have sent his former colleagues at the Guildhallscrambling to minimise the damage.

He said: "It's closure is going to have a significant impact on the city centre, not least because it is a large building in a very prominent position.

"From the council's perspective, it will be particularly sad to see House of Fraser close because it has done everything it can to make the city centre a more attractive place to visit and shop.

"It poses a real challenge. Whether the building, in its current shape, can be put to some new use, I don't know.

"Certainly, I find it hard to imagine any other big department store moving in. They all seem to be under pressure.

"It is possible that it could be subdivided into smaller units."

SUGGESTION: Former councillor Martin Mancey thinks the store could become a hub for small start-up enterprises

Mr Mancey, who led the council's transformation of the public realm for Hull's city as UK City of Culture, thinks smaller units might prove attractive to fledgling businesses.

He said: "I see some potential to create a hub of crafts-based small start-ups, with perhaps some restaurants."

However, Mr Mancey stressed the council's priority now will be getting the building occupied as quickly as possible.

He said: "At this stage, it will be a case of trying to attract all and any interest. Most people, I think, would agree that having this building in use, for whatever purpose, is preferable to having an empty site.

"I am quite sure that council officers will be actively working with House of Fraser to explore all available options."

Mr Mancey said he doubted the freeing-up of such a large site, in an area with good access, would trigger a rethink of where key developments, such as the ice rink - currently earmarked for Albion Street - could be located.

"The council has to try and keep the city centre joined-up," he said. "So it can't have a position where everything is focused around Ferensway and St Stephen's.

"One of the key virtues of putting the ice rink in Albion Street is to create a wider city centre, joining up St Stephen's and Ferensway with the old town."

House of Fraser is closing 31 stores across the UK

Mr Mancey said he expects "some to make an issue" of the impact the closure might have on the planned redevelopment of Albion Street.

"I remain absolutely convinced that the decision to acquire that site was right," he said. "Had we not acquired this site someone like Manor Property would come along and land-bank the site, and it could easily have become another eyesore for many years to come."

Mr Mancey echoed the views of Jim Harris, chairman of Hull Business Improvement District (Hull Bid), the organisation that oversees the development of the city centre, who said the closure announcement has reinforced the council's decision to refuse planning permission for the expansion of Kingswood Retail Park last year.

t the time, the council said the decision, which divided opinion, was done in order to protect the heart of the city.

Nearby House of Fraser stores also expected to close include Grimsby and Doncaster.

The closure was confirmed in a statement on the House of Fraser website.

It said: "Currently, House of Fraser operates 59 leased stores across the UK and Ireland and its property portfolio is unsustainable in its current form.

"Following a comprehensive review of the group’s entire property portfolio, the directors of the companies have identified 31 stores for closure which will reduce the total store estate to 28 stores."

The Hull store is expected to close in early 2019.

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