Is retail in crisis in central St Albans?

PUBLISHED: 13:46 31 July 2018 | UPDATED: 13:46 31 July 2018

Catherine Street, St Albans

Catherine Street, St Albans

Copyright Steve Walker - All rights reserved

There have been a number of high profile companies that have hit problems over the last few months and have closed premises in conspicuous locations. Does this mean there is a fundamental problem in St Albans?

Jeff Rosen, Commercial Surveyor for Collinson Hall, was asked his view. “Far from it” was his response. There is no doubt that the look of the high street has altered. But isn’t that how it has always been? Business trends alter over the years and new challenges and opportunities will drive change.

Collinson Hall deal primarily with secondary retail positions such as London Road, Hatfield Road and Catherine Street. This is where we see smaller businesses in less prominent positions paying proportionately smaller rent and business rates. In this sector things are very healthy. We rarely see avoidable void periods. Sometimes there is a refit or planning change that will leave a premises empty for a while but it is unusual for there to be premises that are empty for long for no reason.

This can be different in prime locations such as Chequer Street or St Peter’s Street, where recent changes to business rates have had a proportionaltely higher impact and where landlords may be institutional investors and tenants a Public Limited Company. Major redevelopment can take years to come together here.

A recent example is the Metro Bank/Premier Inn development, where unaligned leases and planning/development time left this area unoccupied and looking rather unkempt for an extended period.

Likewise we have the BHS store currently undergoing the process of redevelopment. The demand for a store of the proportions of the BHS building no longer drives the best return for the owner and they will look to reconfigure the building for something more suitable to today’s market. In this case, hotel and retail.

It is frustrating for neighbouring businesses to be sat next to a development site but the best that can happen is that the process is enabled as far as possible by the local authority to pass through their controls as smoothly as possible.

There are also instances of businesses that have ceased operating but where the rent is still being paid by the tenant. Again, frustrating if you are next to the premises and we would all prefer to see thriving active businesses but it can take a while to resolve tenant issues and/or to find someone to step into that lease bearing in mind the tenant will probably still be paying rent even though it is closed.

Between Jeff and his colleague Justin Lester, Collinson Hall handle a number of portfolios for clients and occupancy rates are consistently in excess of 90 per cent. St Albans is about as healthy as it can be.

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