finance

New reports finds majority of department stores have been repurposed



A new report has found just under half of department stores trading in 2015 are still operating in Scotland with many being identified for redevelopment.

Future: Department Stores , an inaugural report released today, analysing the use of department store properties across the UK and Ireland found more than three-quarters are now currently occupied or have planning applications pending.

The report undertaken by independent planning consultancy, and town centre and retail experts, Nexus Planning, looked at occupancy activity from 2015 to Autumn 2021 in 917 department store locations across nine major retailers, including now defunct Debenhams and BHS, which accounted for 347 properties.

In Scotland 48.5% of the department stores trading in 2015 are still operating, and developers have spotted a huge opportunity for redevelopment in Edinburgh, with Princes Street identified as an area ideal for diverse regeneration.

It revealed nationwide that almost 30% of properties have been repurposed for other uses, with more than 14% of former department stores are currently – or will be – mixed-use.

Planning for a £50m regeneration of a former Debenhams store was approved in June 2021, to include a 207-room boutique hotel, restaurant and rooftop bar. The site is set to open in 2024.

Further down Princes Street, a former House of Fraser has been given a new lease of life by Johnnie Walker, whose immersive whisky experience, including rooftop bar, opened in September this year.

A planning application is also being sought to redevelop an old BHS store on Princes Street into a mix of retail and restaurants on the street and basement levels, with a hotel, restaurant and rooftop space on the upper levels.

Elsewhere in Scotland affordable retail chains have taken over department store premises, with TJ Hughes opening in Dundee and West Dumbartonshire.

Sites were also converted into offices, food and drink and leisure centres in Aberdeen’s Union Street, Kircaldy’s Morcat Shopping Centre and in South and East Ayrshire.

Rob Pearson, executive director at Nexus Planning and an expert on the Government’s High Street Taskforce, says: “We are amidst a housing crisis and in many cases these large brownfield department store sites represent excellent opportunities for high-density development combining a range of interesting commercial and community uses at ground floor level.

“Up until now, we’ve been preoccupied with shop closures, but business is incredibly resilient to change, and for every well-heralded story of a BHS or Debenhams closing, there are a multitude of examples of the green shoots of recovery, and that’s where we should now be turning our attention to see what we can learn.”

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