Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland BHS stores still lying empty a year after company's collapse

By John Mulgrew

Former BHS stores in Northern Ireland are still without tenants one year after the retail giant went bust, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The firm's administration affected 164 stores and 11,000 employees UK-wide, including 152 staff at four outlets here.

But several large retail units remain unoccupied since the firm pulled the shutters down for the last time.

They include a prominent location at Castle Place in Belfast city centre, as well as Bow Street Mall in Lisburn and Holywood Exchange.

Dunnes Stores has taken on the former BHS unit at the Abbey Centre in Newtownabbey, but its occupancy is not long-term.

A spokesman for commercial property agents Lambert Smith Hampton - which acts for the centre - said "negotiations are at an advanced stage to secure an exciting long-term tenant for the former BHS unit at the Abbey Centre".

He added: "Dunnes Stores is currently in occupation on a temporary basis while its own unit is being extended.

"The retailer is to relocate back to its new larger and fully refitted unit in July of this year."

In February the Belfast Telegraph revealed that a building attached to the former Castle Place BHS had been sold to an investor, believed to be Bywater Properties.

It's understood a number of investors are eyeing up the BHS building itself, and that one solution could be to divide the space.

It remains empty despite growing take-up of retail space in Castle Lane, on the other side of Castle Place.

Recent openings there include coffee shop Patisserie Valerie and menswear retailer Moss Bros. Colin Mathewson, senior director at CBRE, said: "I understand that they have interest from a number of potential occupiers on the basis of dividing the space, but this will clearly take a bit of time to organise."

The Shutters came down on the Castle Place store last August with the loss of 57 jobs.

According to research by The Guardian, just 52 of BHS's former 164 stores have found new tenants or have deals on the table. The collapse of BHS sparked a parliamentary inquiry and left former owners Dominic Chappell and Sir Philip Green potentially facing an investigation.

Sir Philip has borne the brunt of the public fallout, having been branded "the unacceptable face of capitalism" by MPs. He owned BHS for 15 years before selling it to Mr Chappell for £1.

Sir Philip came under fire for taking more than £400m in dividends, leaving BHS with a £571m pension deficit, and for selling the business to a man with no retail experience.

Following its collapse, Northern Ireland workers who lost their jobs were understood to be among hundreds who contacted a hardship charity once chaired by Charles Dickens for help.

The Fashion and Textile Children's Trust said it had received applications from a record 460 families over a six-month period, and around 275 of them related to former BHS workers across the UK.

Belfast Telegraph