Food stores

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

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

Although the grocery chain’s chairman, Archie Norman, warned last month that customers in Northern Ireland would face a “substantial reduction in food supply” at the end of the grace period for the Brexit protocol, M&S has informed the real estate world of its interest in opening a series of new grocery stores in the North.

In a document released by real estate firm CBRE this week, M&S said it was looking for out-of-town or out-of-town sites to set up food outlets of at least 15,000 square feet in seven areas.

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

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

The retailer said it wanted prominent sites on major roads with dedicated parking, adding it would consider moving into existing retail units.

The details emerged as CBRE said investment in Northern Ireland commercial property is expected to top £300m in 2021, more than double the £136m recorded in 2020.

In its quarterly outlook, CBRE NI said £234m of investment activity had been recorded so far this year, with a further £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 £23million.

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

Alongside its latest purchase, DS Properties has spent almost £80million 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 investment fund, the biggest office deal ever in the north.

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

Around 650,000 square feet of speculative office space is currently under development in Belfast.

CBRE Senior Director Gavin Elliott said: “During the year, we have seen a dramatic increase in investor appetite for properties across all sectors, primarily due to the interest rate environment. low interest and continued improvement in occupier markets and the economy in general.

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

“It’s particularly exciting that activity in the office market has been intense, with companies realizing the importance of a foundation for cooperation, collaboration and team building. Likewise, retail had a strong quarter and we expect this to continue as interest in retail parks increases.

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