TOWN centre trading was dealt a devastating hammer blow as Debenhams announced its stores would close amid an ongoing cash crisis.

Debenhams – which has stores in the Royals in Southend and the Eastgate Centre in Basildon – announced its 124 stores are set to shut after the failure of last-ditch efforts to rescue the ailing chain, putting 12,000 jobs at risk.

The news came just hours after Topshop owner Arcadia fell into administration, putting 13,000 jobs at risk.

The likely closure of Debenhams will hit the Royals hard because Primark moved out into the old BHS building in Southend High Street just weeks ago. The centre still has TK Maxx and Boots as anchor stores.

A spokesman for Grape Tree health foods and wellbeing store at the centre, said: “It is a concern as Primark has just gone too so it will be another huge empty store here.

“I do not know what will happen to the store but I think we will be okay as we sell food.

“It will be sad to see another store leaving the centre and it’s a main focus for the centre and why people come to the centre.”

Administrators to the 242-year-old department store chain, which has been seeking a buyer since the summer, said the sale process had “not resulted in a deliverable proposal”.

Kevin Robinson, Labour Southend cabinet member for business, culture and tourism, said high streets were facing challenging times exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

He also raised serious concerns about the Debenhams announcement.

He said: “My heart goes out to the thousands of people whose jobs are now at risk. I would ask any Southend people concerned about their job to contact the council’s economic development team, who can offer redundancy support and advice.

“Southend has bucked the trend and maintained good footfall throughout the pandemic, and the council is keen to see an increase in that in the run up to Christmas, as non-essential shops re-open as we enter the Tier 2 restrictions.”

He said the council had spearheaded a range of measures to keep high streets as vibrant as possible as lockdown ends and the Christmas season starts.

He added: “We will be providing the annual free Christmas parking, with further details set to be announced imminently, along with a campaign urging our residents to shop local, which now more than ever is vital to ensure we can see our High Street on the road to recovery from this extremely challenging year.

“Looking further ahead, we have ambitious regeneration projects under way such as Better Queensway, Roots Hall and Fossetts, Airport Business Park Southend, and the proposed Seaway development.”

Ron Woodley, Independent deputy leader of Southend Council sent his thoughts to families facing the festive period jobless.

He said: “It will be a significant impact in the short-term with a possible empty store and job losses but I hope in the long term we can reduce this impact working with businesses.

“My concern are for those losing their jobs this is awful at any time not just Christmas.”