An inaugural report released, Future: Department Stores analysing the use of department store properties across the UK and Ireland has found over three-quarters are now currently occupied or have planning applications pending – revealing a more positive side to the tide of closures that have dogged the retail industry.
The report was undertaken by an 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 2015, Yorkshire and The Humber had 62 department stores, with just over a third of these in Leeds and Sheffield. Since then, the number has fallen across the region² by 51.6% – the most high profile of which was the John Lewis store which had operated since 2022 at Barkers Pool, Sheffield. In 2021, 30 stores continue to trade.
Of the department stores that have ceased trading, 10 now house national multiple operators while two house independents – the former Debenhams site in Leeds is now an amusement arcade and the old BHS in Scunthorpe is now a market.
Other exciting proposals for the area include:
• In Hull, Jameson Street had an outline planning permission approved in 2019 to convert the former BHS into a mixed-use development of retail units, an ice rink, offices, residential dwellings and a car park
• In Paragon Square, Hull, planning permission was granted in January 2020 to change the former House of Fraser site into an artisan food hall and coffee shop
• In Bradford, the former Marks & Spencer site in Darley Street will make way for a three-storey market building with public square. The aim is to provide a contemporary space that caters for the broad spectrum of Bradford’s communities
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.
“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,” said Rob.