Ma­jor­ity of for­mer Toys R Us stores are ‘close to be­ing oc­cu­pied’

News helps al­le­vi­ate fears of empty units on high street

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - BY EMMA DEIGHAN AND MAR­GARET CAN­NING

THREE of the four for­mer Toys R Us shops in North­ern Ire­land are close to be­ing oc­cu­pied again in a glim­mer of hope for the be­lea­guered re­tail sec­tor, the Belfast Tele­graph can re­veal.

The sites at Abbey Re­tail Park, Castle­court Shop­ping Cen­tre, Spruce­field Park in Lis­burn and Cres­cent Link in Lon­don­derry have been va­cant since the firm went into ad­min­is­tra­tion ear­lier this year.

But the Belfast Tele­graph can re­veal that the Abbey Re­tail Park site is now un­der of­fer af­ter go­ing on the mar­ket for sale. It had been run within a sep­a­rate Toys R Us prop­erty com­pany and was be­ing mar­keted for sale by UK prop­erty agency Mor­gan Wil­liams.

It’s un­der­stood the store is now un­der of­fer. The other three are be­ing let out by Wire­fox, DIY gi­ant B&Q and Lo­tus Group re­spec­tively. B&Q had sub­let a prop­erty at Spruce­field Re­tail Park to Toys R Us.

Agents Sav­ills said they were in ne­go­ti­a­tions with a num­ber of re­tail­ers for the Toys R Us in Castle­court.

And Lo­tus Group last month con­firmed that it had se­cured a let­ting of the for­mer Toys R Us in Cres­cent Link to B&M Bar­gains.

Mean­while, Ir­ish toy re­tailer Smyths is seek­ing to snap up eight for­mer Toys R Us stores in the UK but has not re­sponded to ques­tions on whether it could ac­quire NI stores.

News of let­tings of the for­mer Toys R Us stores comes dur­ing a test­ing time for the high street. Re­tail­ers in­clud­ing Car­petright, House of Fraser and Mother­care are all con­sid­er­ing clo­sures.

Car­petright has said that it will close five of its nine stores in North­ern Ire­land, while Mother­care has re­fused to re­veal how many of its five stores here will shut.

House of Fraser is ex­pected to close some of its 59 de­part­ment stores around the UK — put­ting its Belfast store, the an­chor at Vic­to­ria Square Shop­ping Cen­tre, at risk.

All three firms are ex­pected to im­ple­ment clo­sures as they put their com­pa­nies into a form of in­sol­vency known as a com­pany vol­un­tary ar­range­ment.

A CVA en­ables a com­pany to ask cred­i­tors — in­clud­ing land­lords — to vote on changes to bor­row­ing terms in favour of the re­tailer, in­clud­ing rent re­duc­tions.

And four Maplin elec­tri­cal stores in North­ern Ire­land are to close af­ter it went into ad­min­is­tra­tion.

A spokesman for Mother­care told the Belfast Tele­graph that it couldn’t “com­ment on in­di­vid­ual store clo­sures” but “the com­pre­hen­sive mea­sures pro­vide a re­newed and sta­ble fi­nan­cial struc­ture for the busi­ness”.

An­drew Webb, econ­o­mist and di­rec­tor of economic ad­vi­sory at Baker Tilly Mooney Moore, said “se­ri­ous thought” would have to go into how va­cant re­tail units are mar­keted for sale.

“This may re­quire bold think­ing in seek­ing and al­low­ing for changes of use — might leisure, of­fice or res­i­den­tial work bet­ter in some lo­ca­tions than re­tail?

“Ob­vi­ously agents and own­ers will wish to get their prop­er­ties let as soon as pos­si­ble. This cur­rent re­tail malaise shows no sign of abat­ing. Pol­icy makers and plan­ners should be deep in thought on what we want our places to be.” Aod­han Con­nolly, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the NI Re­tail Con­sor­tium, said the prospect of va­can­cies fol­low­ing CVAS was “more ev­i­dence of the on­go­ing trans­for­ma­tion in the re­tail in­dus­try”.

“Re­tail is be­ing re-shaped and re-formed by a very chal­leng­ing op­er­at­ing en­vi­ron­ment which is clear to see un­der a grow­ing num­ber of CVAS,” he said.

“But the high street is not dead, this is about rein­ven­tion re­tail not Ar­maged­don re­tail.

“In­vest­ment in dig­i­tal is ris­ing sig­nif­i­cantly with new busi­ness mod­els emerg­ing and many tra­di­tional busi­nesses re­struc­tur­ing the way they op­er­ate to meet chang­ing con­sumer de­mand.”

He added: “Pol­icy makers must also adapt to pro­vide a bet­ter plan­ning and busi­ness tax­a­tion en­vi­ron­ment in which a 21st cen­tury re­tail in­dus­try can thrive.”

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