M&S identifies seven sites in Northern Ireland for new food stores

Marks & Spencer has flagged up seven towns in Northern Ireland as locations for new food stores.

MARKS & Spencer has identified seven locations in Northern Ireland it wants to set up new food stores.

Despite the grocery chain’s chairman Archie Norman last month warning that customers in Northern Ireland face a "substantial reduction in food supply" when the grace period for the Brexit protocol ends, M&S has put the property world on notice of its interest in opening a series of new food stores across the north.

In a document published by property firm CBRE this week, M&S said it’s seeking out of town, or edge of town sites to set up food outlets of at least 15,000 sq ft in seven areas here.

Under a heading of ‘where we would like to be’, M&S listed: Antrim, Armagh, Downpatrick, Dungannon, Magherafelt, Newtownards and Carrickfergus.

The seven towns were among a long list of areas across the UK where M&S believes there is a market for its food offering.

The retailer said it wants prominent sites on major roads with dedicated car parking, adding that it will consider moving into existing retail units.

The details emerged as CBRE said investment in Northern Ireland’s commercial real estate is set to top £300 million in 2021, more than double the £136m recorded during 2020.

In its quarterly outlook, CBRE NI said £234m of investment activity has been recorded so far this year, with another £66m either under offer or currently on the market.

The latest major deals here include the sale of Shane Retail Park in Belfast to David Samuel Properties for £23m.

It's the fourth major retail asset the Manchester-based property group has acquired here since 2019.

Along with its latest purchase, DS Properties has spent almost £80m buying the Crescent Link and Lisnagelvin retail parks in Derry, as well as Holywood Exchange Retail Park, near Belfast.

CBRE's £234m figure for 2021 to date includes the £87m paid for Merchant Square in Belfast by a Saudi Arabian investment fund, the biggest ever office deal recorded in the north.

While the take-up of office space here has plunged since the pandemic, CBRE said viewings and expressions of interest remain strong.

Around 650,000 sq ft of speculative office space is currently under development in Belfast.

CBRE senior director Gavin Elliott said: “Over the year we have seen a dramatic increase in investor appetite for properties across all sectors, which has been primarily driven by the low interest rate environment and the continuing improvement in the occupier markets and the wider economy.

“Furthermore, with inflationary pressure being felt throughout the UK economy, investor sentiment for real estate will continue to strengthen,” he said.

“It’s particularly interesting that activity in the office market has been busy, with companies realising the importance of a base for co-operation, collaboration and team building. Similarly, retail has posted a strong quarter and we expect that to continue as interest in retail parks grow.”

Read more: No sign of Aldi changing its policy on the north

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