They’re talking about the future - and there aren’t that many shops...

A major wind of change is blowing across the UK's retail sector
A major wind of change is blowing across the UK's retail sector

There’s an old phrase that goes along the line of ‘It’s only being so cheerful that keeps me going,’ the irony being that it is now applied mostly in reference to someone who is characteristically gloomy and pessimistic.

We try to be positive here at the Business Desk and most weeks we manage it.

However, with the Primark crisis still facing Belfast city centre, and a partial solution still a month or so off, the state of the UK retail sector as a whole was thrown into greater relief this week.

The issue, as reported by the BBC and others, is the possibility that around 200 shopping centres could be on the verge of admistration.

Coming on the back of research from the National Retail Research Knowledge Exchange Centre, based at the Nottingham Trent University’s Nottingham Business School, it suggests that centres under threat are not exclusively located in less well off areas of the UK’s towns and cities.

The loss of big retailers such as BHS - the anchor tenants that attract other retailers - is a big threat.

Toys R Us has gone and others such as Debenhams are downsizing and all the while the smaller retailers are under increased pressure from online shopping.

“The collapse of BHS, two years ago, left empty units in around 200 shopping centres and more than half of those large, empty units have not yet been filled,” said Nelson Blackley, the analyst behind the Nottingham research.

He also pointed to additional research in the Financial Times suggesting that about £2.5bn worth of shopping centres and retail parks are up for sale in towns and cities across the UK.

Here, we have seen similar closures and some centres are indeed suffering. But in GB there are also signs that the old order can be replaced, restoring under pressure services in an accessible way. In Richmond in London, for example, a school is being built above a Lidl store while in others libraries and medical centres are opening.

This week Bill Wolsey’s Beannchor Group announced plans to build a hotel incorporating a former Argos store at Lisburn Square in the city. Change is coming, we’d better get used to it.