In 2015, there were 106 department stores open in the region, six years on there are new occupiers or redevelopment plans in place for 78 of them, according to research by Nexus Planning.
Of those that have closed since 2015, a total of 28 are vacant with no redevelopment plans in place.
The study, titled Future: Department stores, found that, while there had been a drastic decline in the number of department stores in recent years, the development community had mobilised to respond to the decline of some of the high street’s biggest names.
“Up until now, we’ve been preoccupied with shop closures but business is incredibly resilient to change,” said Rob Pearson, executive director at Nexus Planning and an expert on the Government’s High Street Taskforce.
“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.”
Since closing, 14 North West BHS stores have been re-let to alternative retail operators including B&M, Primark, Wilko and Sports Direct.
This demonstrates “We haven’t totally lost our appetite for bricks and mortar shopping”, according to Nexus.
In Oldham, the former BHS unit has been subdivided and is now occupied by Next and B&M. The Oldham Debenhams unit remains vacant, but is incorporated within the council’s planned redevelopment of Spindles Shopping Centre.
In Stockport, the former BHS unit is being revamped and subdivided and will house JD Sports and Poundland, according to market sources.
While some empty department stores will continue to be used purely for retail, changing high street trends are prompting landlords and local councils to explore alternative uses in a bid to inject new life into town and city centres.
Elsewhere in Stockport, the town’s former Debenhams is earmarked for demolition to pave the way for a £500m town centre hospital, although these plans are at an early stage.
In Liverpool, leisure is being planned within Liverpool One’s former Debenhams store. Part of the building’s retail space is to be converted with a go-kart track mooted.
In Manchester, the former 370,000 sq ft Debenhams on Market Street is to be repurposed into an office-led, mixed-use scheme.
Down the road, the Kendall Milne building on Deansgate also has planning permission for conversion into offices. That project is to include the construction of a new-build 14-storey block featuring retail, workspace and leisure uses.
“Our report unearthed the North West as a region able to support the wholesale redevelopment and repurposing of empty department store spaces for entirely new uses,” said Richard Shepherd, director at Nexus Planning.
“Larger commercial premises are being used for alternative purposes, matched to the local market, which is diversifying the offer of town centres. Both Manchester and Liverpool city centres have evolved considerably over the past decade, diversifying their offer through substantial investment in shopping centres, infrastructure and the wider public realm.”
The national picture
Of the 917 department stores open nationally in 2015, 433 were still operating as department stores in autumn this year.
Nexus’ study analysed properties occupied or previously occupied by BHS, Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, Dunnes, House of Fraser, Beales, Harvey Nichols and TJ Hughes.
Debenhams and BHS accounted for 347 of the 917 stores. In the North West, those two former giants of the high street operated 41 of the 106 department stores in 2015.
Nexus predicts that some of the sites that have become available due to the changing face of the high street could help to meet local authorities’ housing demand.
“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,” Pearson said.