Insights Hub

The Debenhams estate: where are we now?
Date published: Date modified: 2023-08-16

December 2022 marks two years since all Debenhams stores were set to close (with some reopening briefly to clear stock following the third lockdown). While the brand has continued to trade online following its acquisition by Boohoo, it left behind over a hundred stores across the UK. Due to their size and the changing physical retail climate, these units presented a challenge to fill. We have reviewed the latest developments across GB to provide a comprehensive update on the status of these stores, two years on from Debenhams’ collapse.

  • 22% of former Debenhams stores currently have a live occupier, while 17% are set to return to the market following redevelopment work or planning approvals. The remaining 61% are vacant with no plans in place for reoccupation as yet.
December client insights 1

Figure 1: Reoccupation status of former Debenhams stores, as of December 2022 (Source: Local Data Company)

  • With 4 in 10 of its Debenhams stores reoccupied, Wales has the highest percentage of reoccupations of any GB region. Compare this to the North West, where only 5% of former Debenhams units have been reoccupied.
  • So far, ex-Debenhams units in the East Midlands have seen the most repurposing activity. As a result, it has the lowest level of vacant Debenhams units of any region other than Northern Ireland.
  • Compared to other location types, Debenhams stores at retail parks have seen the highest rates of reoccupation. Our wider market analyses over the past few years have revealed especially fast recovery for this location type, which benefitted from its convenience and accessibility over the pandemic period.
  • In contrast, shopping centres have the highest percentage of vacant former Debenhams units, due to the sheer capital expenditure involved in repurposing them.
  • 26% of Debenhams units on high streets have been repurposed amid the wider shift towards a more diverse high street offer. With more limited demand for large-format retail units in these locations, some stores have found alternative uses, for example as co-working spaces, housing or food halls. Reflecting the scale of repurposing activity in the market, John Lewis have recently partnered with Abrdn to redevelop former Waitrose stores into 1,000 residential rental homes. The reoccupation of this space for other uses means the loss of an anchor department store, which will change the local retail mix and impact surrounding occupiers.
  • Several former Debenhams units have seen plans put forward for mixed-use developments, with upper levels converted for residential or office space and retail on the ground floor making up less than a third of total space across the site.
December client insights 2

Figure 2: Reoccupation of former Debenhams stores by GB region, as of December 2022 (Source: Local Data Company)

  • The most common retail reoccupiers are Next Beauty Hall, The Range, Primark, Flannels and M&S, whose offers complement the large-format units. Openings include the Flannels store set to open in Blackpool and Primark’s upcoming stores in Craigavon and Bury St. Edmunds.
  • Some units have been occupied for temporary use, including Cancer Research’s use of the former Debenhams in Aberdeen as a charity shop. Units such as these have been used as vaccination centres, donation centres in aid of Ukraine and temporary locations for retailers refurbishing or relocating existing stores.

These latest findings reveal signs of positive progress across the former Debenhams estate. Alongside the take-up from major retailers, we have already seen several non-retail alternative uses put forward for these units; continued repurposing activity, particularly on high streets, will help to further drive vacancy down across regions. Given the challenges in the wider market, however, we are likely to see progress slow significantly.

Sarah Abu-Amero, LDC Marketing Executive

Sarah Abu-Amero, LDC Marketing Executive The Local Data Company 901 901

Sarah joined LDC in 2021, having previously worked as a copywriter and social media manager. She supports the team with digital and written communication, planning and creating content for the company’s website and social accounts.

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