The gradual decline of the high street has been taking place over a number of years, with retail battling the impact of the 2008 crash followed by the massive growth of online shopping and then a global pandemic. A significant part of the rapidly evolving face of the high street has been the decline of the familiar department store, with BHS, House of Fraser and Debenhams all collapsing.
In the last five years the UK has seen an 83% loss in its department store space with 388 stores being shut since 2016. These are large units, many of which are currently standing empty. Simone Protheroe, an associate in the construction team at national law firm Clarke Willmott LLP, thinks this could be the answer to the growing demand for mixed-use development sites.
She said: “Individual retail chains are unlikely to want such large spaces anymore and department stores are often situated in areas not particularly suited to becoming purely residential units.
“Add to this the catalyst effect the pandemic has had on the changing shape of the high street and you are left with a significant number of unlet units. Enter mixed-use developments, the perfect solution to seeing these (often historic) buildings re-occupied.”
Simone believes using department stores as mixed-use sites opens up a world of opportunity for innovative solutions. An example is the former BHS store on Edinburgh's Princes Street which is now part hotel, part office space, part leisure with a bowling alley in the basement.
She continues: “The concept of mixed-use development is become increasingly popular as a solution to adapt to our multi-faceted requirements of modern spaces.
“One area which can really benefit from the forward-thinking creativity in the current real estate and construction market is the re-development of the nation’s empty department stores. These significant and extensive spaces have the potential to become important and functional sites and through collaboration it is possible to regenerate our rapidly changing high streets.
“Clarke Willmott’s nationwide expertise can assist funders, developers, tenants and contractors in facilitating these exciting re-fit projects.”