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12 Oct 2020

42 football pitches worth of retail space lost in the past year but is evictions ban masking true impact of Covid?

303,000m² of retail space has been lost in England and Wales in past year, the equivalent of 42 football pitches, shows a study by leading private wealth and property law firm, Boodle Hatfield.

The study looks at floor space that has been permanently taken out of retail use rather than retail space that is simply vacant and without a tenant.

Out of 353 areas covered by the study, Manchester lost the largest amount of retail space (35,000m²), followed by Kingston upon Hull (23,000m²), Coventry (22,000m²), Sheffield (20,000m²) and Peterborough (18,000 m²).*

Boodle Hatfield says that the current moratorium on evictions could be disguising the true impact of the pandemic on the retail sector and once this is lifted even more retail space is likely to be taken permanently out of use.

Since March, landlords have been prevented from evicting tenants who have been unable to pay their rent due to coronavirus. This moratorium has been extended to the end of 2020, with some speculating that it may remain in place well into 2021.

Without this protection, as well as support offered through various other Government measures such as CBILs and the Job Retention Scheme, many retail businesses would likely have been forced to close.

Boodle Hatfield says coronavirus has further accelerated the shift away from bricks and mortar retail towards ecommerce. This has come at the expense of traditional retailers, that suffered from enforced closure during lockdown and still far from seeing a full recovery in footfall.

Simon Williams, Partner and Head of Property at Boodle Hatfield says: “The retail landscape is continuing to contract with more and more space being taken out of use. The more severe the lockdown rules the faster this decline.”

“Should the moratorium on evictions be lifted at the start of 2021, many retailers will be in an extremely vulnerable position, particularly if coronavirus restrictions keep Christmas shoppers away – which is the key period of the year. The next few months will be crucial for the sector.”

“City centres have struggled to recover as people choose to shop locally or online. Should this trend continue, we could see vast swaths of prime retail space taken out of use.”

“Retailers may decide to close their bricks and mortars stores in favour of investing more into their online offerings.”

“The question for the Government and local authorities is how much they invest in stemming this decline versus allowing more change of use from retail to residential. That’s an issue that is going to be hotly debated as planning reforms progress.”

Top 20 areas that have seen the biggest reductions in retail space over the past 12 months

*Based on VOA data, year-end 31st March 2020