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Debenhams’ demise shows time is ripe to revolutionise Britain’s high street

The UK retail sector should grasp its opportunity to revitalise and reconfigure the British high street, with Debenhams’ fall into administration further proof that today’s model is unsustainable, according to property consultancy Bidwells.

Failing to embrace change will ensure retail’s continued struggle, data from Radius Data Exchange (part of the Estates Gazette Group) shows. For example, just 39 out of 105 Toys R US stores have been re-let or redeveloped, while 64% lie empty since its administration. 

Patrick Stanton, head of logistics and industrial at Bidwells, said: “Retail is undergoing a revolution and in a revolution there are winners and losers: physical stores are suffering but the sheds supplying online delivery are booming. We can lament the fate of the high street or we can embrace the change and look for the new opportunities that emerge from it.”

The equivalent of 250 football pitches (19.2m sq ft) has gone vacant since the start of 2018 through CVAs or administrations as retailers such as Maplin, Toys R Us and Poundworld have disappeared, the data revealed.

Steven Charlton, managing director at the London office of global architect Perkins+Will, said: “North America is leading the way when it comes to creative uses of empty commercial space and we should be looking to follow suit here in the UK. Big box out-of-town retail space, like some of the old Toys R Us stores, could be revamped and reimagined as community centres, pop-up markets or leisure facilities.”

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