Commercial property specialist Mark Slade fears Plymouth city centre will become increasingly contracted as the landscape of the retail property sector continues to radically change.

Speaking at the latest quarterly meeting of the Plymouth Area Property Professionals Association, Mark, an Associate with national property consultancy Bruton Knowles, said the centre of Plymouth is struggling.

He described demand for units as ‘extremely patchy’, with fewer and fewer retail businesses making long term property commitments to the heart of the city.

“Whereas ten years ago it was commonplace for people to take out a ten-year lease on a retail property, nowadays there is a much shorter term view of three to five years at the most,” said Mark.

“In my view, Plymouth cannot sustain such a large shopping area and the focus should be to centralise the city centre more, focus on a much smaller area with more attractions and less shops.

“It is about seizing the initiative and embracing the new culture that is changing the face of our High Streets, otherwise, we will just see a continued contraction of the centre of Plymouth with more and more empty properties.”  

But Mark said the outlook was not all bleak, with online retail operators seeking to expand into the area with new distribution hubs, which he says is planned to halve delivery times across the region.

Also, in contrast to retail, both industrial and commercial investment sectors are very strong. Freehold square foot prices are on the increase with more businesses looking to buy property as a future pension pot investment rather than rent.  

Commercial investment is currently offering yields of seven to ten per cent and Mark also said that his firm is taking bookings for valuations in three to four weeks’ time – a key sign of a strong commercial market place.

“While I appreciate there is a question mark over Debenhams in Plymouth, the city should also be buoyed by news of a change of heart by John Lewis on the Dingles store with the Exeter store now facing closure. As many a proud Plymothian will know, it is not often it happens that way around,” added Mark.