THE lack of post-closure plans for a major North-East retail store have been branded “disappointing” by an MP, as bosses confirm the shop will close in January next year.

Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham has criticised bosses at Debenhams after it emerged the retailer does not own the site but lease it with another 15 years on the contract.

Mr Cunningham said bosses at Debenhams also offered no assurances that the building would be properly maintained while vacant.

The retailer announced last month that its Stockton site would be one of 22 store closures across the country, a move expected to put 1,200 jobs at risk.

The Northern Echo:

In the letter to Mr Cunningham seen by The Northern Echo, Terry Duddy, executive chairman of Debenhams, said: "We haven't taken the decision to close any stores lightly and we have weighed up both the store performance itself and also the location, to establish what is likely to happen to footfall and spending in the future.

"Unfortunately Debenhams has seen a sharp decline in profitability in the past two years, and if we do nothing then the future of the business overall would be at risk.

"We have taken this step because we believe to have a profitable future, Debenhams has to move its business model, which means increasing our sales online and making some hard choices about stores, where we have a much higher level of fixed costs.

"We do not own the site, it is leased – as are all our stores locations – with another 15 years to run on the lease. Unfortunately, a future for us in Stockton would mean rising losses from the store, which the business cannot afford.

"We are fully committed to supporting all the affected colleagues throughout this difficult time and our intention is to redeploy as many colleagues as possible into other opportunities across the wider business, if this is a suitable option for the individual."

Mr Cunningham said: “While I’m pleased to see that Debenhams has taken steps to support staff through either redeployment or in looking for other opportunities, I am hugely disappointed that there appears to be no post-closure plans for the site itself.

“At the very least we need assurances that the site will be properly maintained so as not to become a blight that will detract from the good work Stockton Council has done on the High Street. Ideally I would like to see plans to have the site occupied.

"We need decisive action to avoid another M&S fiasco (which also announced it was closing its Stockton store) which could see the site sit empty for years.”

The company also has stores in Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland, South Shields, York, Harrogate and Scarborough.