billlThroughout the pandemic, we have seen many of the UK’s most iconic high street department store brands fold, or close swathes of their high street properties. However, a recent report shows promise for the high street, with retail units being repurposed to meet the demands of modern consumers and new plans for city centres. 

The Nexus Planning Report 

Independent planning consultancy, Nexus Planning released the inaugural report  Future: Department Stores which analyses the current use of department store properties in the UK and Ireland. The report identified that around three-quarters of all department store properties are either occupied or have planning applications underway. 30% off properties have been repurposed for other uses, including as mixed-use developments. 

As part of their research, Nexus Planning looked at occupancy from 2015-2021, analysing 917 commercial properties held by department stores. 347 of those properties were occupied by BHS and Debenhams, now no longer operational. 

Developments and opportunities around Scotland 

There is great opportunity for developers, property owners and businesses in Scotland, with huge opportunities for development. Princes Street in Edinburgh has been identified as an ideal area for regeneration. 

In June 2021, the former Debenhams store on Princes Street received planning approval for a £50 million regeneration which will include a boutique hotel, rooftop bar and restaurant. The development is set to open in 2024. 

Similarly, the former House of Fraser was taken over by Johnnie Walker to provide an immersive whiskey experience with a rooftop bar, popular with locals and tourists alike. 

At the other end of the spectrum, many affordable and budget brands that have thrived in pandemic conditions have taken over department store premises. 

Executive director at Nexus Planning and an expert on the Government’s High Street Taskforce, Rob Pearson outlined that the consultancy was until recently, focussed on shop closures, but that businesses have shown great resilience and there is much to be learned from the current commercial property and planning market. 

He went on to address the fact that the UK is in the midst of a housing crisis, and that in many cases large former department store sites provide opportunity for high-density, mixed-use development.  He said: 

“Nexus is being approached by a multitude of clients in the private sector seeking to rejuvenate their vacant or under-utilised assets, as well as clients in the public sector who are seeking inspiration and support in helping to deliver real change on their High Streets.  

A really exciting range of opportunities has been born out of the change in fortune of department stores, propelled by the challenges of the last two years.”

It is clear that for commercial property owners and developers willing to think creatively and work collaboratively, there is still plenty of life and opportunity in Scotland’s high streets. 

Specialist Commercial Property Lawyers, Edinburgh

Murray Beith Murray Partner Bill Meldrum is Head of Commercial Property and a specialist in commercial property law and the current commercial property market. If this article has raised any questions, or if you require assistance with any Commercial Property matter, please complete our contact form or call 0131 225 1200 to speak to one of our commercial property specialist solicitors.

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