Belfast Telegraph

Sports Direct 'taking legal advice' over House of Fraser closures report

House of Fraser (Aaron Chown/PA)
House of Fraser (Aaron Chown/PA)

Sports Direct will be “taking legal advice” following a news report that suggested it would shut “almost all” of its remainder House of Fraser stores, which may have included Belfast, after Christmas.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that Mike Ashley, who bought the chain last year for £90m, will either sever rental contracts or stop paying rent altogether for most of his stores after the peak festive trading season however a spokesperson for Sports Direct slammed the article and called it an “unbelievable level of misreporting”.

She said: “The Telegraph article refers to “fresh papers from administrators EY”, which is the progress report for the administration of HFL Realisations Limited (formerly House of Fraser Limited, which went into administration in 2018). This refers to a number of leases being surrendered for £nil and a small number of property leases remaining to be dealt with. Please note that the surrenders relate to the leases between the landlord and the old House of Fraser company and have nothing to do with Sports Direct Group including the new House of Fraser group.

“Sports Direct has entered into new leases on the majority of House of Fraser stores. The EY report relates to an entirely different company. Sports Direct continues to work with landlords across the whole of the remaining House of Fraser estate.

“As a result of this erroneous misreading of the administrators report from EY, staff across the HoF group have today woken up to a false sense of job insecurity.  Sports Direct is working rapidly on our ongoing investment programme with the HoF brand and it is therefore totally incorrect to assume that there will be large numbers of store closures in the new year.  We are taking legal advice with regards to this unbelievable level of misreporting.”

The report comes six months after the retail giant said it would invest £10m in Belfast’s Victoria Square site after agreeing a new long-term lease with the retail centre’s landlord, Commerze Real who told the Belfast Telegraph that the store in the city would not be closing.

As part of its rental agreement Sports Direct revealed plans to fully renovate the store from “mid 2019”.

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A spokesperson at Commerz Real said: "Commerz Real has a good working relationship with House of Fraser and we agreed terms on a new long-term lease for the store in Victoria Square earlier this year. At that time, the company also committed to investing in and remodelling the site.

"The Belfast store is one of House of Fraser’s strongest performing stores and it is also of real importance to the city’s retail offering. We look forward to working with House of Fraser for more years to come."

That move is expected to be part of Mr Ashley’s plans to rebrand the site as a more luxurious, designer-led department store that would trade under the name “Fraser”. 

There were around five sites with the same planned overhauls, with the first one expected to replace the outgoing Debenhams in the centre of Wolverhampton it was reported.

Sports Direct first bought House of Fraser out of administration for £90 million last year in August. At the time, Ashley’s retail empire took control of 64 sites, including three offices, two warehouses and 59-strong store estate.

Belfast Telegraph Digital