The old Debenhams department store building - empty for three-and-a-half years - will be brought back into use after plans for a self-storage facility were approved.

The flagship department store closed in June 2020 and now Away Storage Ltd has been given permission to convert the building, which fronts onto Fleming Way and also The Parade in the pedestrianised part of the centre, into what it calls an ‘urban self-storage’ centre.

There will still be four shop units made available for use by other businesses in the part of the building accessible from The Parade

That - together with the company’s assertion that converting the building would do more for the town centre than leaving it empty - seems to have swayed planners at Swindon Borough Council, at least some of whom were not at all sure about the proposal.

Away Storage said: “The building has been marketed continually since closure in 2020 for retail use and there has been no interest, therefore the building has become redundant and is at risk of further deterioration and obsolescence.

“The public [is] less interested shopping in large-scale inner-city footprints; with smaller floor spaces and flexible leases being more appropriate or shopping on the internet.”

The company adds that most town centre plans don’t allow large storage facilities, which means many centres have large empty units like Debenhams.

And the company says it specifically looks at creating storage facilities in town centres to “bring these buildings back into use sustainably whilst providing a necessary service to the public whilst often within walking distance of its customers".

It added: “The site has excellent access, directly adjacent to and within walking distance of a range of public transport. The building also has excellent access to the local and strategic highway network. These credentials contribute towards the building being in a sustainable location.

“The proposed self-storage facilities will largely serve residents in the city centre catchment and local businesses.”

The council's planning policy officer had concerns, saying: "It is a concern that the proposal is seeking to establish a low-density storage use within such an accessible town centre location; in addition, the proposal does not take the opportunity to improve the way in which this key building functionally relates to Fleming Way.”

But with a condition that says the four shop units on the ground floor must be made ready for tenants and marketed before any of the self-storage units are in use, the council has given the proposal consent.