DEBENHAMS have placed their national retail operation under a cloud, after announcing 50 high street stores are to close over the next five years.

But it is not thought that the beleaguered chain's Blackburn branch is among the short-term casualties, as bosses cope with a near £500million trading loss.

The announcement has come in a torrid 24 hours for Blackburn shoppers, amid the expected closure of menswear firm Greenwoods in The Mall next month.

Last year the department store made a £59million profit but has been hit by leasehold and IT costs in 2018.

The future of their next nearest store, at Bolton, is in question, after it was claimed the site had been earmarked for the first wave of closures.

Such speculation was scotched by the company thought after it was insisted no announcements had been made, at either Blackburn or Bolton, over whether they were being axed.

A Debenhams spokesman said: "We have identified up to 50 stores, accounting for under 15 per cent of total sales, which are currently profitable, but where we do not see a long-term future and which we intend to exit over the next three to five years.

"This is an ongoing five-year programme and we are not disclosing a list of these stores."

Cllr Phil Riley, the borough council's regeneration executive member, said: "There is nothing specific which has been said regarding the Blackburn store, though given the scale of these closures, people would have reason to be worried."

Sales are said to have slipped across their stores by 1.8 per cent but the firm says it remains a "strong and trusted brand", with 19 million customers last year.

Sergio Bucher, their boss, said: "It has been a tough year for retail in 2018 and our performance reflects that.

"We are taking decisive steps to strengthen Debenhams in a market that remains volatile and challenging."

Menswear outfit Greenwoods was bought out of administration by Versatile Trading International last year.

Stores in Bradford and Keighley have closed in recent weeks and it is understood that the Blackburn premises will close by the end of November.