Economics Editor

Shops on struggling high streets and shopping centres may never reopen as retailers are forced into a more rapid retreat by coronavirus, one Britain’s biggest landlords warns this weekend.

Chris Grigg, the chief executive of British Land, the FTSE 100 giant behind a £4.8bn retail portfolio stretching from Sheffield to Plymouth, said the outbreak would act as a “stress test” for retailers facing lengthy closures.

He said the mantra for many will be “never let a good crisis go to waste”. 

“What you will see is that in less good places, retail won’t reopen. People are just going to say, ‘I’m sorry but we’re going because we now know what physical [stores] does for us and what it doesn’t’.”

Mr Grigg’s comments follow forecasts from the Centre for Retail Research that more than 20,000 shops could close this year as Covid-19 accelerates the rise of online shopping. Some 235,000 jobs could be lost.

He added larger "super-regional" shopping centres, such as Westfield’s Stratford City and Westfield London sites could also come under pressure in a fast-changing retail climate because they are “just too big”.

“There aren’t enough retailers, they have got too much space and you can’t really easily transform that,” he added.

While offices form the majority of British Land’s £11.7bn portfolio, barely one 1 in 10 of its stores are open due to the lockdown.

The company has suspended its dividend until further notice while it negotiates with tenants over rent deferrals and has agreed to scrap rents altogether for its smaller occupiers for the next three months.