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32% of former BHS stores still vacant, experts predict ‘major’ repositioning

Published
Aug 30, 2019
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Three years after BHS’ collapse, 53 of its stores continue to be vacant, a new study from real estate advisor Colliers International has found.



The figure highlights the vacancy problem currently facing UK high streets, with approximately 11% of the UK’s high street stores sitting empty.

Property landlords and retailers have had three years to snap up the 53 stores which were left vacant after BHS fell into administration in 2016. This empty space represents 32% of the chain’s original 163-store portfolio.

Colliers predicted that as many as one in three of these shops will be transformed into new homes and mixed-use schemes in the future.

Dan Simms, co-head of retail at Colliers International, said: “It may be controversial, but we need to be realistic – this is not sustainable, for landlords and local communities alike. Space that has been empty for a period of time that is this prolonged will never, in all likelihood, have a retail use again.” 

“Taking this into consideration and looking hard at the current state of the UK’s retail landscape, we believe that this trend will continue. The dilemma is how to reverse its crippling effects and ensure this space doesn’t stay vacant. The ‘obsolete core’ must be tackled. 

“What’s encouraging is that the retail property market is already well underway in its response to this and there are repurposing projects taking place across the UK to help reduce, convert and, in some cases, remove this empty space entirely.” 

Such is the case of the ex-BHS store in Stratford-upon-Avon, which has been bought to build a 170-room hotel. The site will also be used to create a new restaurant, but no retail shops are planned in the scheme.

THE GOLDEN AGE OF ONLINE SHOPPING

In addition to predicting a major repositioning of retail space, Colliers’ Midsummer Retail Report has warned that the ‘Golden Age’ of online retailing is coming to an end. 

Unsustainable business models, growing competition and environmental concerns will mean online retailers will stop offering free delivery and returns, two features that defined the internet’s Golden era. 

“The days when you could order three items of clothing in different sizes, confident in the knowledge that you could return all of them free of charge, are coming to an end,” the firm said.

Head of retail capital markets, James Watson, said: “There are now 60 per cent more vans on UK roads than there were a decade ago. The upcoming generation of shoppers is even more environmentally aware; they are questioning the wisdom of items travelling huge distances – only for them to be returned and rack up more ‘product miles’ – and people are realising that there’s no such thing as truly ‘free delivery’. 

“To address this impact, we can foresee the introduction of a new form of suburban congestion charge being levied on delivery vehicles.”

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