Middleton Grange bosses in crunch talks over future of BHS store

The BHS store in the Middleton Grange Shopping Centre in Hartlepool
The BHS store in the Middleton Grange Shopping Centre in Hartlepool

Bosses at Hartlepool’s Middleton Grange shopping centre face an anxious wait to learn the fate of the centre’s BHS store.

The firm collapsed into administration yesterday, putting 11,000 jobs at risk nationally and threatening the closure of up to 164 stores.

Opening of the store in 2012

Opening of the store in 2012

The town store only opened in 2012 and has been the flagship since the closure of Marks & Spencer last year.

It is the biggest retail failure since Woolworths went bust in 2008.

A spokesperson for LaSalle Investment Management, which owns the Hartlepool shopping centre, said: “Following the announcement that BHS has fallen into administration, we are in conversation with the administrators to determine the impact on our operations.

“We will be working through the different scenarios to achieve a long-term solution for all involved.”

We are in conversation with the administrators to determine the impact on our operations. We will be working through the different scenarios to achieve a long term solution for all involved.

Owner’s spokesman

A spokesman for Hartlepool Borough Council said the local authority would do all it could to help: “Clearly, this is very disappointing news. It is hoped that a buyer for the business can be found and the council would give every support it can in relation to the Hartlepool store.”

Administrators Duff & Phelps said last-ditch talks to find a buyer for the firm over the weekend had failed, adding: “In addition, property sales have not materialised as expected in both number and value. Consequently, as a result of a lower-than-expected cash balance, the group is very unlikely to meet all contractual payments. The directors, therefore, have no alternative but to put the group into administration to protect it for all creditors.”

BHS will continue to trade as usual while potential buyers are sought.

The firm has debts of more than £1.3 billion, including a pension fund deficit of £571 million, which proved a major stumbling block in the rescue talks.

NUFC owner Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct company is understood to be interested in acquiring some stores, but will only do so if it does not have to take on any pension liabilities.

Shopworkers’ union Usdaw said taxpayers should not be left to pick up the pensions bill.

General secretary John Hannett said: “The Government needs to intervene now to protect taxpayers from picking up the bill for redundancy payments and safeguarding the Pension Protection Fund.”

It is thought up to 30 other retailers may buy a slimmed-down version of the business or some stores.

The company’s owner, Dominic Chappell, said he will continue to work with the administrators to “find a solution post the administration”.

He also said “no-one is to blame” for the collapse.

Mr Chappell said: “No-one is to blame.

“It was a combination of bad trading and not being able to raise enough money from the property portfolio.

“In the end, we just couldn’t reach an agreement with Arcadia over pensions.”

BHS was bought last year by a consortium called Retail Acquisitions, headed by Mr Chappell, for £1 from retail entrepreneur Sir Philip Green, the owner of the Arcadia retail empire.

BHS has debts of more than £1.3 billion, including a pension fund deficit of £571million, which proved a major stumbling block in the rescue talks.

Sir Philip is reported to have offered £80million towards pensions, though the regulator could still pursue further payment and has opened an official investigation into company’s pension scheme liabilities.

The Pensions Regulator said: “We can confirm we are undertaking an investigation into BHS’ pensions scheme to determine whether it would be appropriate to use our anti-avoidance powers.”