THE FIGHT to keep Workington town centre alive will continue following worrying news that a major department store is on the brink of administration.

Debenhams’ shares were suspended this week and the company is now trying to find a new buyer. While the stores will continue trading during the process, 50 of its 165 shops are to be shut down in a restructure starting next year. It is not known if Workington’s branch, on Risman Place, will be affected as Debenhams has not issued the list of proposed store closures.

Leading politicians have pledged their support to the town centre.

Allerdale council’s deputy leader Mark Fryer, who is responsible for economic growth, said: “Our push has always been to try and keep the town centre alive. We’ve been aware of the problems Debenhams was facing nationally for some time now, the problem is people are buying more and more on the internet.”

The Labour councillor added that what made a town centre attractive was not just the shops, but the whole offer.

His comments were echoed by Allerdale councillor and leader of the Conservatives Tony Annison. He said: “We need an integrated approach to promote entrepreneurs, provide better parking and make the town centre prettier to improve its aesthetic.” He added it was important not just to attract shops but also to diversify the offer.

Recently more interest has been shown by businesses for out-of-town outlets, adding to the backdrop of uncertainty for Debenhams’ future in Workington. Last week LS Workington Limited applied to change the layout of units on Derwent Drive from four to three. It is understood it also applied for permission for the space to become a food outlet. However a spokesman for the company behind the project confirmed there are no firm plans for the site.

Coun Fryer said there was a history of submitting speculative applications at Derwent Howe. He said: “Property companies who own outlets that have been standing for some time do it to appear more valuable on the balance sheet and there is a history of doing that in that area.”

He added it was important to strike the right balance between attracting businesses to the area and keeping the town centres alive.

He said: “Keeping Workington town centre as the main shopping centre for West Cumbria will always be a priority for us.”

Plans for a TK Maxx store to open at Derwent Howe were approved in 2017 and now plans have been submitted to build on the 1.61-hectare land next to Caspian, off Prince’s Way and Derwent Drive. The commercial development would include mixed retail, food and hot food takeaway.

Coun Annison said Allerdale’s planning department should be more active and offer more encouragement for businesses to get into the town centres. He said: “Towns are suffering throughout the UK. We need to integrate plans.”